with Stephen Hammond
Tip #40 — LOOKING AFTER THE RIGHTS OF MEN AS WELL AS WOMEN
In 1979, I worked for a school board raking rocks for the summer (don't ask) at a good wage. I got the inside scoop on the job through the retired couple from whom I rented a basement suite. Living downstairs from this couple, I quickly discerned that they were pleasant and polite. The husband, whom I'll call "Joe," was involved in boxing and worked for a maintenance department. Though neither of these are exactly tea-and-crumpet environments, I never, ever heard a bad word from Joe's mouth. Regardless of whether his wife was around, Joe never swore in my presence.
Then one day he came by my workplace to visit with his former colleagues, to shoot the breeze. When he caught up to my foreman we were all in the truck waiting to go out for the day. To my surprise, I discovered an alien had invaded Joe's body. Some entity began forcing him to swear: "F" this and "C" that. I learned three things that day. One, Joe holds the record for the number of swear words one can jam into a short conversation. Two, people can turn things off and on when they want to. And three, men interact differently when they are in the company of men. I discovered that in Joe's mind, at least, in order to fit in with the other guys, you've got to act like the other guys. Unfortunately for us guys, no one seems to have ever told us we don't need to act that way.
When I first engaged in professional speaking about workplace issues, I found myself talking to all, or mostly, men, and I figured the conversations would mostly entail how male employees treat women. I was surprised to discover a different dynamic. At one particular event involving a roomful of men of all ages, once we got past the textbook learning and started talking about the need to have more respectful conversations with one another, I saw quiet nods from some of the older guys - guys close to retirement. When I followed up with private conversations, I got the sad sense that these guys would have wanted that kind of respect, but no one gave them permission to expect or demand it. They were coming to the end of their careers in a workplace characterized by toxic interactions. Since that session, I enjoy talking to men about creating a more welcoming workplace; it's a rare but welcome conversation on their part.
Don't get me wrong; sometimes male-dominated workplace training has me running to the closest bar to have a drink (or two). But there are times when we men get to connect in an unusually forthright way.
Some men consider male-dominated workplaces the greatest. To those individuals, such environments enable them to bond with one another in a way normally reserved for girlfriends, wives, spouses, sisters or mothers. They're not looking to emulate women; they are looking for more meaningful ways to interact with other men.
1) Work towards respect - not breaking into a chorus of Kum Ba Yah. We can't lump all men into any category, just as we can't with women. That being said, not all men want to swear, even though some seem to think it's a pastime. Get men to discuss what is respectful and what isn't and if the conversation is open and honest, you may get good results.
2) Watch the put-downs and insults - that seem to form men's conversations. Many men are brought up being more competitive than many women and hence it comes out in our basic conversations. Little digs and put-downs are common but when they get out of hand, someone needs to call a time out. Don't be afraid to do that.
3) Don't worry about babysitting - as these are grown men who don't need constant surveillance. You need to be concerned only about behaviour and exchanges likely to cause a problem. There are many men (and women) who can get into heated exchanges about sports, politics or even religion, without causing a lasting stir. Don't ban controversy. Ban insults, over-the-top put-downs, and disrespectful language.
This is TIP #40 of 52 WEEKLY TIPS for managers and supervisors.
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