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Millions of women gained eye-opening insights about the inner lives of men through Shaunti Feldhahn’s best-selling book For Women Only. Now with this faith-based edition of The Male Factor, Feldhahn brings her innovative research approach to the workplace to help women understand their male colleagues. In this Christian edition, Feldhahn speaks directly to the interests and questions of women of faith, whether their workplace is a part-time ministry or a Fortune 500 corporation. This version of The Male Factor also delivers invaluable advice from senior Christian women who have broad experience in dealing with these questions, understand and share the reader’s values, and want to help other women achieve the best possible work relationships.
Even women who have navigated male-dominated work environments for years have expressed surprise at the revelations in this book. Some readers may find them challenging. Yet The Male Factor delivers a one-of-a-kind opportunity for women to understand how male bosses, colleagues, subordinates, customers and ministry partners privately think, and why they react the way they do. These vital insights enable each woman to make informed decisions in her unique workplace situation.
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SHAUNTI FELDHAHN is the best-selling author of For Women Only:What You Need to Know About the Inner Lives of Men and For Men Only: A Straightforward Guide to the Inner Lives of Women. Her books have sold two million copies and have been translated into fifteen different languages. A longtime nationally sydicated columnist, she holds a master's degree in public policy from Harvard University, has worked on Wall Street, and now lives in Atlanta, Georgia.
A New Skill Set
“Are you saying women don’t already know that?”
The charismatic African-American businessman sitting next to me in first class looked at me in disbelief. I was flying home from speaking at a women’s conference, and we were only a few minutes into the usual “What do you do?” airplane conversation. Then I shared something that apparently stunned him.
I had explained that I was a financial analyst by training, had worked on Wall Street, and was now, unexpectedly, an author and speaker about relationships.
His inevitable question: “What’s your main topic?”
“Men.” I grinned at his wry expression. “I spent a few years interviewing and surveying a few thousand men. My last book, For Women Only, identifies ways that men tend to think and feel privately, that women tend not to know.”
He folded his arms across his chest, and it was his turn to chuckle. “OK,” he said, “hit me with one.”
So I shared one of my findings about men—one that I will share with you in the following pages—and that is when the amusement turned to disbelief.
When I confirmed that even the most astute women may not know that particular truth about men, I could see that suddenly, his thoughts were off in a universe of their own.
“That explains something!” he finally said. “You see, I’m a corporate trainer and consultant. Fortune 100 corporations bring me in to help with leadership and strategy at the highest levels of the organization. And all too often, I see skilled and talented women sabotage their careers because they treat the men they work with in a way that no man would treat another man.”
He looked at me with awakening interest. “But from what you’re telling me, these women probably don’t even realize that that is what they are doing.”
It was my turn to be interested, and my notebook and pen were already out. “Can you give me an example?”
“I’ll give you an example of something that just happened a few hours ago.” For the next few minutes, he told me his story (which I’ll relay in a later chapter), and concluded, “I was so puzzled why this female executive would shoot herself in the foot like that! But
perhaps she simply didn’t understand how her actions would be perceived by her colleagues—colleagues who were mostly men.”
THE HOLE IN THE BUCKET
The range of what we think and do is limited by what we fail to
notice. And, because we fail to notice that we fail to notice, there is
little we can do to change until we notice how our failing to notice
shapes our thoughts and deeds. —R. D. LAING
In recent decades, organizations across America have developed a bucket of programs to help advance or retain women. Many approaches have been quite effective; others, better in theory than in practice. We’ve seen a surge in management attention to work/life balance issues—particularly to retain working moms—and a corresponding surge in flextime, telecommuting, and other options. Businesses and industry groups are increasingly fostering female networks and mentoring relationships as an alternative to playing golf with the guys, and are emphasizing professional development for rising women. Organizations large and small have studied and trained their people on avoiding sexual harassment, and on the unique needs of female workers, customers, and stakeholders. Gender-equity task forces have proliferated.
But as valuable as those efforts are, I’ve come to realize that they leave a significant hole. We can be skilled, talented, highly educated, mentored, and networked—and yet trade all of that away by unintentionally undermining ourselves in our interactions with male colleagues. As my new friend on the airplane put it, we can still sabotage ourselves and efforts we care about simply because we do not understand the “male factor”: some relevant truths about how the male half of the population thinks—and thus how they may be perceiving (or misperceiving) our words and actions.
Even without that potential trap, we may be missing some important insight, effectiveness, and tactical advantage through a simple gap in information—a gap exacerbated by the fact that (as you will see) men often have clear internal expectations but don’t feel able to openly share what they are privately thinking. So the end result is the same: A woman can all too easily be missing valuable information that might be helpful or important for her—information that she would presumably want to know in today’s workplace. One senior executive put it this way:
Women in business have seen some tremendous opportunities open up, but have also seen that it is still a man’s world in many ways. What I mean, though, is different than you may think. What I mean is that, historically, for better or for worse, men pretty much created what we mean by “the business world” today. And since men still tend to hold most of the top-level positions, their subconscious ideas about how things should work are still framing the debate.
It would be extremely helpful for women to have insights into what it’s like to be a man in that business world. When
men say things like, “It’s not personal; it’s business,” it would be helpful for women to understand what “it’s business” actually means in the minds of the men whose ideas originally defined that business world.
Based on everything I have heard from men about how they think and feel—and how surprising some of those revelations have been to millions of women who have heard me discuss them—I would argue that understanding men in the ways that might impact us is a career-critical skill set that women can develop, like any other. I would also argue that women of faith are called to do more than copy cultural assumptions. We’re called to understand and live by the truth of how God created men—to be, as Romans says, transformed by the renewing of our minds.
Over the years, I’ve heard from hundreds of women readers who were validated that they had already recognized and incorporated some of these truths into their workplace approach—and from many others who wished they had learned these often-hidden truths earlier or better.
All of us want to be effective and be perceived as “getting it” instead of triggering the unspoken question, Why would she do that? While the need for understanding might be most obvious among younger women who are still learning their way in the marketplace, a better understanding of men has certainly helped senior female professionals, as well. One senior vice president found her work relationships with men improving so much after she read my original book that she personally bought one hundred copies, one for every woman in her department.
Whatever your line of work or ministry, you probably have significant interaction with male superiors, coworkers, subordinates, customers, or volunteers. That makes it critical for you to better understand how and what they think—especially in areas that affect you but that they would never tell you. Not because their way is “right,” or because you should necessarily adapt to their expectations, but because their perceptions exist and could be affecting you whether or not you know what they are. Far better to have full information, so you can make informed decisions that are right for you.
You may have seen the humorous graphic comparing women and men to two different old-fashioned control panels. The one labeled “Woman” has dozens of random buttons, gauges, and circuit breakers. The one labeled “Man” has an on-off switch.
Pop culture suggests women are complex, while men are straightforward. And in some ways, that seems true. But in other ways, I’ve found that assumption can be misleading—and dangerously so. There is more complexity and depth in men’s thinking than many women—and even many men—realize.
How I Woke Up to What I Didn’t Know
In 2001, I stumbled across some important facts about what men are often privately thinking and feeling, that women often never know.
I had recently moved with my husband from New York City to Atlanta, and was working as a financial and organizational analyst. In my spare time I was also writing fiction. One of my main characters in my second novel was a man, a good, decent husband and father and successful businessman. And I realized that although I could put on paper what my character was doing in my various scenes, I had no idea how to write what a man would be thinking. So I began asking male friends for help. I would describe a given scene,
and then ask, “What would you be thinking in this situation?”
And I often found myself shocked. Over and over again, the men described foundational, private thoughts that I would never have guessed at. They described deep, daily ways of thinking and feeling that were a complete surprise to me—even after eight years of marriage. I kept thinking to myself, “Why have I not heard this before?!”
I started doing more and more of these interviews, hitting up everyone from my male colleagues to the guys behind the counter at Starbucks. And it soon became clear that what I was learning was too important to stop with creating a character in a novel. So once the novel was finished I began a more systematic approach to investigating the most important things that women j...
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