Building Bridges

(We should be building bridges - not barriers)


1.  Bridging gender differences

2.  Bridging differences with art, music and dance.


"The male/female difference represents the biggest between-culture gap that exists. If you can learn the skills and attitudes to bridge the gender differences in communication you will have mastered what it takes to communicate and negotiate with almost anyone about almost anything."

George Simons, creator of DIVERSOPHY® training instruments

"Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus"  (John Gray, 1992)




Bridging gender differences

Bridging  the Gender Gap in business

Men and women work differently.  If discrimination is to be avoided, if each group is to be treated equitably, these differences need to be recognised and appreciated., Sally Helgesen, author of The Female Advantage: Women's Ways of Leadership[1] has described the following differences:

·         Women work at a steady pace, and build in small breaks throughout the day. Men are more likely to work non-stop, at a frantic pace, with no breaks.

·         Women workers tend to see themselves at the centre of things; men, on the other hand, often view themselves at the top.

·         Women place a high priority on relationships in the workplace with their subordinates, peers, and bosses. Because of that, they are much more likely to make themselves available to peers and subordinates than male workers.

 ■  Women try harder to make time for family and home life. It is often a high priority for them. Men often view the home as a "branch office," and are more likely to let work take precedence over family and outside activities. 

   Women are more comfortable sharing information; men tend to collect it.



Gender Diversity 

What is gender diversity?

Diversity refers to differences that arise from a multiplicity of backgrounds, styles, perspectives, values, and beliefs.  

Here are some instances of diversity as provided by the Mars-Venus Workplace Seminars[2]


A Woman

Offers unsolicited advice and direction

Feels an instinctive need to talk about what is bothering her

Is motivated when she feels respected

Experiences self-worth through caring, understanding and respect

Studies people and relationships

Derives her sense of self through the quality of her relationships



Women like to talk about problems and engage others to find a solution, whereas men tend to shut down and isolate themselves.  In situations where collaboration, cooperation, and quality of relationships are important female characteristics are invaluable.


A Man

Offers solutions, many times invalidating another person's feelings

Tends to pull away and silently think about what's bothering him

Feels motivated when he feels needed

Experiences self-worth through trust, acceptance, and appreciation

Studies things rather than relationships

Defines his sense of self-worth through his ability to achieve results


And some strategies for women when dealing with men in business, similarly based upon the Mars-Venus Workplace Seminars [op cit]:


Promote Yourself
Let others know your achievements, results and ideas

Speak up
Deal with men who interrupt
Stand up for yourself

Avoid Tag Endings
It makes you sound unsure
"Isn't it?". "Is that OK?"

Be direct
Get to the point
Just say what you want done

Stop saying "I'm sorry"
Only do this when you are wrong, not to be polite
It makes you sound passive

Be concise
Give only enough information to get the job done
Avoid unnecessary histories/backgrounds


And strategies for men when dealing with women in business


Build Rapport
Listening Skills

Be Polite when making a request
Please, thank you

Avoid monopolising conversations
Don't speak for her
Do not interrupt her too soon

Don't call women "cute" names
Sweetheart, duck, dear, love, etc
Chauvinistic and condescending

Control outbursts of anger
Women are uncomfortable when men shout

Don't lecture or browbeat
Involve them rather than telling them
Women tell themselves off best




You Just Don't Understand 

Deborah Tannen in her best selling You Just Don't Understand[3] suggests that men enjoy giving information as a way to show expertise, whereas women like sharing information to build relationships. She cleverly labels these differences in styles of communication as "report talk" and "rapport talk".  Men use the reporting method to enhance their own power, frequently interrupting and competing for time and space.  Women tend to wait to speak until others are heard and use the opportunity to build rapport by sharing information and knowledge.

In applying Tannen's theory in the workplace, it could be of benefit to decide whether your concern is "report" or "rapport".  If your aim by the latter is to build relationships it will pay to let others share time and space without interruption.  If, however, your aim is to demonstrate your expertise, then "report-talk" could be the best approach.  It will increase your credibility, particularly if you seize every opportunity to express yourself rather than leaving the floor to others.  If interrupted, a clean language statement such as "I haven't yet finished speaking", unaccompanied by any verbal or body language apology, will enhance the impression.

On listening styles, Tannen says that men listen to solve problems, while women listen to gain understanding of a speaker's experience.

Here a practical example of the gender difference might develop from a complaint to two colleagues about the failure of a department manager to respond promptly to a request.  The male colleague might say: "Well let's go over their heads immediately and complain to top management."  The female colleague, however, might respond: "Well, that's pretty inconsiderate of them, isn't it?  What do you want to do about it?"  The male is concerned with solving a problem, the female with gaining understanding.  An unambiguous, clean and clear response could be to ask: "Do you simply want me to listen or do you want me to offer advice?"

A further example: in decision making, men tend to make unilateral decisions and are comfortable giving and taking orders, whereas women tend to seek input and consensus and are more comfortable with giving and receiving suggestions from others.  When women say: "Do you think we should . . . ?" it sends confusing signals.  Women will hear the statement as asking for input and suggestions; men will hear it as a lack-lustre absence of confidence.  

It could avoid subsequent difficulties and smooth the way if, when making decisions, you state clearly that you are simply gathering input and will take the ultimate decision yourself.  If however you are  seeking consensus, you need to state that fact.  This will encourage others to make suggestions.

Sondra Thiederman, a speaker and author on diversity, has put much of this very well in one of her books [4]

"Several well-respected studies have shown that women tend to soften their demands and statements whereas men tend to be more direct. Women, for example, use what are called “tag lines.” A “tag line” is a phrase like, “don’t you think” following the presentation of an idea, “if you don’t mind” following a demand, or “this may be a crazy idea” preceding a suggestion.

"The reason for these softening phrases is that many women are conditioned by culture to maintain harmony in relationships. That conditioning is manifested in softened demands, hedged statements, and a generally more tentative communication style. The important thing to remember is that tentative communication does not mean that the speaker actually feels tentative or is lacking in confidence. Similarly, more direct communication — as seen with some men and, because we can’t generalize, with some women too — does not mean that the person is arrogant, bossy, or feels superior. These are nothing more than learned ways of communicating.

"Another difference often seen between men and women is that women – in general – tend to ask more questions than men. We have all heard, or experienced, the anecdote about the man who refuses to stop to ask directions when lost. We get a good chuckle out of this story, but differences in how and when questions are asked can create real confusion in the workplace.

"The asking of questions means different things to men and women. For men, to ask a question has one purpose only -- to gather information. For women, asking questions serves two purposes. One is to gather information, but, and you have probably noticed this, women will also ask questions when they already know the answer. Why? They will ask questions to show interest in what the other person has said — in other words, to cultivate the relationship. This automatically means that women ask more questions than men."


A study by the Scottsdale National Gender Institute of Phoenix, Arizona, devoted to the business case for gender diversity, and examining the reasons for the disproportionate number of women leaving American business organisations compared to their male associates, concluded:

"Both men and women have unique and valuable talents to contribute to organizations.  When these talents are merged in a supportive, equitable business culture, the result is not a redistribution of promotions, authority, and other rewards from men to women.  Rather, the result is the creation of a larger and growing 'pie' that can be shared by all participants.  This 'win-win' scenario provides a meaningful justification for active participation by both men and women in gender diversity programs."


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[1]  The Female Advantage: Women's Ways of Leadership, 1995, Bantam



[3] You Just Don't Understand - Women and Men in Conversation by Deborah Tannen, HarperCollins, 1990

[4] Making Diversity Work: Seven Steps for Defeating Bias in the Workshop by Sondra Thiederman, Dearborn Press, 2003.