Working on different planets

Mars and Venus author says improving communication between genders boosts productivity

Most people have heard it at least once in their lifetime — Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. Some see it simply as an expression, but John Gray, a certified family therapist from Northern California, turned it into a philosophy to live by.

He authored a book about Martians and Venusians in 1992, detailing ways to understand and appreciate the differences, and sold more than 10 million copies worldwide. Now a decade after that first book, with other best sellers under his belt, Gray is introducing yet another hot topic — this time it’s for employers. His latest offering, Mars and Venus in the Workplace, takes a look at the reasons why there is a communication gap between men and women at work.

“You go into five or six companies and you hear the same things...the common complaints that men tend to have about women and women tend to have about men,” says Gray.

These complaints, if not addressed, can cause a build-up of tension between employees, and can ultimately affect the bottom line, he says. Often times, men and women can blow each other’s actions out of proportion, when what it all boils down to is a misinterpretation.

“If you imagine a dark room and there is a big snake in it, you’d get all upset and fight it or run out of the room. But then if you turn on the light, you’d realize the big snake is really a stick and all your problems are gone.”

People turn a lot of problems in the workplace into big snakes when in fact they’re just little sticks, he says.

Misinterpretations ensue because the rules on both planets are quite contrary. For example, consider the way in which men and women solve problems at work. Women talk about their problems, and men go to their caves, says Gray. If a man goes to his cave to figure out a solution, a woman will take offence and feel excluded.

When a woman seeks others for their opinion on a problem, a man will think she can’t do it on her own and then doubts her aptitude. When she interrupts his “cave time” to ask for his insight he gets annoyed by the distraction. A man wants to solve the problem and feels it’s a waste of time to talk extensively about it.

“He’s thinking, ‘Why is she not capable of coming up with a solution on her own? Why is she talking to me about it?’” explains Gray. “The fact is she could have solved it on her own but out of respect for her boss or co-worker she’s including them. She’s paying them a compliment on her planet, but it’s an insult on Mars.”

It seems women have the greatest challenge in the workplace, he says, because women have to overcome the inherent discrimination of men.

“Men commonly misinterpret a woman’s behaviour as a sign of incompetence. So there’s kind of this generalization going on.”

Martians end up making their own conclusions about Venusian workers. They believe women are slow, they whine and complain, they’re too sensitive and ask too many questions, which explains why they think women are not competent enough to get the job done right, Gray says.

“What I’m helping men understand is that all those conclusions are often wrong and are misinterpretations.” The same goes for Venusians; they believe men are not supportive, make too many interruptions and don’t listen. While Gray says not everyone will fit into the Mars/Venus model, his six years of research confirms most people do match some or all of the characteristics.

To open the lines of communication, the first step for employers is education. HR departments should try to initiate dialogue about these issues, Gray says.

For more information on Mars and Venus in the Workplace, visit www.marsvenus.com.

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