How to Do Business with a Woman (If You Are a Guy)

Fundamentally, doing business with a woman is much the same as doing business with a man.  We have similar education, background, upbringing, cultural references and experience.  We probably have more in common than not.  These are the important elements to keep in mind, when doing business with women, before you move on to considering gender.

Like men, we are hired to do a job.  Like men, we have personal lives.  This may be a gross generalization, however it has been my experience that women are better at concentrating on work, at work, with a tendency to focus on getting the job done in a reasonable amount of hours so they can move to their other life.  There are firmer lines between work and home-life.  So maybe we seem more serious or conscientious than we need to be.

Similar things generally motivate men and women at work.  Ambition, pride, satisfaction, the achievement of goals, material success, making a contribution: all are common drivers for both genders.

There are some subtle differences about female colleagues that make us different from our male counterparts that might be helpful, even considerate, to keep in mind.

Leave the paternal attitude at home.  We’re all grown up now, have responsibilities like rent or mortgage and car payments.  Some of us even have kids of our own (what bigger responsibility is there?).  Whether we live alone or with a significant other, we are able to support ourselves and no longer need our parents’ permission to do what we want.  So we may be a little sensitive when someone tries to tell us what is good for us or provide unwanted advice.  Thanks, you may mean well, but keep it to yourself.

Don’t judge on physical characteristics.  There are no studies that show a correlation between IQ and bra size.  Please don’t be surprised that an attractive woman can be sharp.  And if you are, try not to act surprised.  The fact that I’m short, have freckles and red hair does not in any way impact the more than 30 years work experience I have gained.  You need to get past what we look like and see who we are.

Look me in the eye.  For your information, my eyes are located in the top half of my face.  When we are having a conversation it is inappropriate to look at any part of my anatomy below my chin.

Any reference to the cycles of the moon is absolutely inappropriate.  Frankly I can be crabby at any time of the month.  As can most of the men with whom I have worked.

Sometimes a girl can just be one of the boys.   Many women are sports fans – my sister loves hockey is very knowledgeable and loves to discuss how the hometown team is doing.  Lots of women have an earthy sense of humour, enjoy practical jokes and like to be involved in kidding around and camaraderie.  I worked with guys that I enjoyed bantering with and hanging out with for lunch or an occasional beer – it was great.  Just remember that you are in the workplace and the professional setting dictates behavior, so that humour, conversation and references should remain at a respectable level.  Take the high road.

On the other hand, we usually just don’t get crude.  Many women just don’t enjoy coarse humour.  Funny or not, crass has no place in a professional setting.  Crude and class are pretty much the antithesis of each other.

Don’t typecast, don’t assume I have a partner, family or kids.  I may, or I may not.  In any case, I’m at work, to work, just like you.  If I want you to know personal information, I’ll tell you – not that it makes any difference to my ability to do the job.  Which is what I’d ask you to keep in mind.

Women tend to be a little less direct than men.  Women other than me, I mean.  When providing feedback or giving negative input, they may phrase their comments a little less strongly than a man might.  Women do pull their punches a little.  They may tend to be more “delicate”, sensitive and careful when they speak.  So you may have to pay a little more attention.  It may also explain why negative feedback from men is sometimes not taken well, even when well meant.

Kindly respect my personal space.  Yes, you are bigger than me, but I paid exactly the same as you for that seat in the airplane.  So no, you don’t automatically get the armrest, and your legs should go straight out in front of you, rather than spread as wide as they can go to either side.

Shake my hand with a firm grip.  I’m not made of glass.  I’m not suggesting we arm wrestle, but there is no reason not to give the same handshake to a woman as you would give to a man (unless there is some sort of one-upmanship going on between them).

Please, use my name.  Any form of diminutive is not appropriate.  Dear, darling, sweetie, sweetheart, love, oh, and honey – none of these should be used in any situation related to a professional setting.

When I was about 25, I was working in advertising and promotion and was responsible for purchasing film, printing, creative, promotional and related items.  The representatives I dealt with were exclusively male.  There was one guy who constantly called me “dear.”  I didn’t appreciate it, and I tried to tell him so, as nicely as I could.  He told me he “called everybody dear.”  One day, he called me on the phone.  As we were talking, he called me dear.  I hung up.  He called back, saying, “We must have been cut off.”  I agreed.  We resumed our conversation.  He called me dear again.  I hung up.  He called back saying I should check to see if there was a problem with my phone.  I said, “I don’t think it’s a problem with my phone.”  I’m not saying he never called me dear again, but he certainly made an effort.

In doubt about how to handle a situation with a female colleague?  Do you have a daughter, wife, niece, girlfriend, mother?  Imagine that particular woman in a similar situation with a male colleague.  How would you want him to act?

Robin Thornton
Communications professional. Strategic marketer. Brand builder. Consultant and resource. Opinionated fan of the written word, dogs, horses and shoes. Aficionado of Social Media and Single Malt. Extreme adult. Ever learning. Believe that if it's worth doing, it's worth doing well. Being the eldest child might explain my tendency to try and overachieve.
  • Jim Dougherty

    Robin, this piece is witty, insightful and provocative. I love this post so much and I think your voice is truly phenomenal. I have nothing substantive to contribute to your comments except for adulation. Thank you.

    • Robin Thornton

      Jim, I thank you for the opportunity for a forum where I can get up on my “soap box”!

  • Ted Rubin

    Nicely done Robin. How about a follow-up… How to Do Business with a Guy (If You Are a Woman). That I really want to read :-)

    • Robin Thornton

      Thanks for reading, Ted. Actually, that’s a great idea. Hope you don’t mind if I put it on my list!

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  • Norma Gibson

    Hi Robin:

    I am an old friend of your Mum’s from Moncton, and I just want to congratulate you on an excellent article.   Very insightful, well written, and “tells it like it is”  —  we would hope that our male counterparts might already be aware of all the obvious information contained herein, but it bears repeating in any case.  Great job!     NORMA 

    • Robin Thornton

      Appreciate that you took the time to stop by, read and comment, Norma! Thanks for the kind words. Mom says “Hi”!

  • CoachDebra

    And can we just keep our hands to ourselves?  A handshake is great.  Even a two handed one.  A pat on the shoulder, OK.  But the rubbing the back, the hug.  This is business, unless we’ve known each other a really long time and haven’t seen each other in forever, a handshake is fine, thank you.  I don’t think you’d kiss your male colleague on the cheek, even then, now would you?

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  • Gayle Hayes

    Robin, Your style and the information made this post enjoyable and useful. Your final paragraph says it all. If we treat others as we want to be treated or would have our loved ones treated, no one needs a list of do’s and dont’s written on their palms to help pass social and professional exams.

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    • Robin Thornton

      Thank you for the very complimentary shout out and “suggestion”, Jim!

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