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

In my debut article here at Leaderswest, I wrote a post entitled “How to do Business with a Woman (If you are a guy)”.  It got quite a response.  Ted Rubin was kind enough to comment and added, “How about a follow-up… How to Do Business with a Guy (If You Are a Woman). That I really want to read :-)”.  Well, here you go, Ted.

Research has demonstrated that women have a more inclusive, collaborative work style.  They tend to try and achieve consensus, employ a fair and equitable process and avoid conflict.

Men focus more on the results and the shortest, most direct path to the goal.  Their cooperative relationships are more like sports teams, with everyone having a designated role.  The team may take precedence over the individual.

As such, men and women have a different way of acting, reacting and communicating.  In my 30-or-so-year career, here follow the major lessons I’ve learned about how to do business with a guy, if you are a woman.

Cut to the chase.  Don’t beat around the bush.  Get to the point.  Spit it out.  Men don’t want stories.  They want “just the facts, ma’am”.  When talking to men, leave out the details and stick to the broad strokes.  Provide basic context, give the minimal background info and skip the “colour”.  Offer them the Cole’s Notes version, they will ask any necessary questions to find out the additional information that they need/want to know.

Along the same lines, minimize the explanations about why you didn’t or can’t do something.  The background explanation is probably not interesting or pertinent and may end up sounding like an excuse.  Instead, outline how you intend to compensate for or correct the situation.  Men are much less interested in the why, and much more concerned about the what.

Don’t take it personally.  Sometimes, it might be necessary to cultivate a thicker skin.  Guys have an enviable ability to shrug off criticism, move past negative comments, or ignore unwanted input.  To women, even casual feedback is often perceived in the worst possible light, a direct and laser-sharp pinpointing of their shortcomings and failings.  They will think about it, turn it over and dwell on it with much more consideration than any with which it was given.  While women will consider each and every word and all of their possible meanings, men will be thinking of the message – the information they wanted to impart.

You might want to ditch the chip on your shoulder.  Lesson number 1: Life is not fair; Lesson number 2 – See lesson number 1).  Not all circumstances or situations can be absolutely equitable or fair.  (I’ve had a particularly hard time with this one).  Guys “get” each other. Guys smoke cigars.  Guys play golf and squash.  Even if you play golf or squash, you can’t get into the men’s locker room – believe me I’ve tried (totally inadvertently, I swear!)!  There will always be times when you are the odd man out, basically because you are not a man.

Whatever you do, don’t cry.  I know this is a tough one, because many women manifest anger as tears.  But men don’t understand this.  In a professional setting, men perceive tears as a purely emotional reaction – sad or unhappy. Crying makes them extremely uncomfortable and they don’t know what to do. The reason they may interpret crying as weakness or a sign that you can’t cope is because generally, that is what they have been taught.

Unfortunately this reflects poorly on you.  If you think you’re losing it, excuse yourself or reschedule for a time when you feel able to be less emotional or better able to act with stoicism.   It’s preferable to seem abrupt or rude than give way to tears.

There is more than one way to skin a cat.  Rules are made to be broken.  Guys focus on the shortest way between two points.   If there is a shorter, quicker, easier way to do something, they will find it.  Women often have a hard time getting on board with this, as they are more rules and process oriented, they may not automatically look for an alternate to the specified method.  Women may feel they are cheating.  The key is to take the time to examine the opportunities, and agree if/how they can be leveraged.

Try to find a sense of humour.  Perhaps guys have a base sense of humour, but maybe it’s only because simple things are just plain funny.  If you don’t find something humourous, kindly do not look down your nose disapprovingly.  You don’t have to like it, but please be tolerant and accept it.

If you’re going to wear something tight or revealing, men are going to look.  Their wife/partner might get angry, their Mom might be ashamed of them and their sister disgusted, but if it’s on display, it’s fair game.  Consider this when you’re choosing your wardrobe and act accordingly.  If you choose to ignore the warning, then you just have to deal with it.  I’m not saying that ogling or leering is appropriate or acceptable, but if wares are on display in public, looking is.

Learn how to shake hands. Make contact with a firm grasp, so your hand has some presence and it doesn’t feel that he is handling a dead fish, but don’t overcompensate by squeezing.  Think about grasping the handle of a door to open it. Use a similar grip.

The world is made of many shades of grey.  Grey is a mixture of black and white.  See how much we have in common?

So guys, how did I do?  What did I miss?  I’m counting on you to let me know.

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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.
  • AmyMccTobin

    I missed the first post and the link isn’t working for me this morning, so I can’t access it. I’ve mulled a lot of this over, having spent a huge chunk of my career in a very male dominated industry. I certainly agree with the “don’t cry,” and on the flip side for men “don’t yell.” Ever. It seems that losing your temper, raising your voice and cursing are more easily forgiven than tears; I think they should both be banned from the workplace.

    I admit that for years when I got into management in the male dominated industry, I tried to ‘communicate like a guy.’ Then I realized it was all bunk… I got results, year after year, and I got sick of trying to communicate for them. Now, I communicate like ME, not like a woman. I know lots of women who don’t communicate in the same style I have. As a Sales Manager I learned that people are individuals, and it took a different approach to motivate different people; gender did not seem to be the determining factor.

    of course I care about how I’m perceived, but I figure that if my results are there, people will accept my communication style, stories and all.

    • Robin Thornton

      Thanks for commenting, Amy. I agree that the only way to be happy is to be true to yourself. The thing each, each party is has responsibility for 50% in communication. Part of the task is making an effort to communicate in a way that your audience understands, but your audience has to want to hear you!

  • Ted Rubin

    Awesome post Robin, and I am not just saying that because you mention me in the beginning. This is really dead-on, incredibly valuable advice. That doesn’t mean it will work for every women, or man, but it gets to the heart of understanding how your counterpart thinks, acts, and reacts.

    As Amy points out in her comment, you have to consider advice like this, then do what works for you (and I totally agree with her point about “individuals” and gearing your approach to who they are, a policy I adhere to and teach) but at the same time be opening to understanding generalities and basic human behavior is very important.

    Thanks for taking this on and delivering!

    • Robin Thornton

      I appreciate the kind words, Ted. Thanks again for providing the challenge that inspired this post. We are all individuals, but as a society, we comply with certain general rules, it’s true!

  • Maria Adcock

    This is great, wish I had known this when I was just starting out in the corporate world!

  • Michele Price

    Yes we all have different styles and I agree with Ted, we see so many articles on how to do business with women, yet not same via men.

    No wonder I have an easier time getting along with them (men) since my natural MO is straight forward. HA, my biggest ah ha though was how you discussed women deal with even the slightest bit of criticism ( even when it is NOT criticism ).

    I find it easier to ask – what did you mean by _______? Instead of guessing.

    • Robin Thornton

      Thank you, Michele. Asking people what they mean makes a lot of sense. I have a theory, though, that common sense isn’t very common these days!

  • jimdougherty

    I just want to say that I remember Ted’s comment from that first post (which still ranks as one of my favorite posts of all time), and I knew when I read it that it would simmer with you, Robin. I love your exploration of gender because you have such a great insight into the perception of each. While I agree that you can’t apply every generalization to every person, what I love about your posts here and on your site is that you provoke a critical analysis of how we act with other people because of these differences. And I think your point of view and writing is top-notch. Again, I’m completely humbled by your wonderful contribution!

  • @Amaaanda

    Hate to say it, but I feel like a total guy here. Don’t give me a story, just tell me that it’s not done and when it will be done. Maybe it’s just my aversion to excuses in general and I find that women are huge on excuses and “stories”. For example, instead of saying, “I’m going to be 15 minutes late, so sorry my cat got caught in the dishwasher..blahblahblah”, I’d rather just hear “Running late, be there at 9:15”. When you have a constant habit of giving excuses, you can always come up with new reasons to be late / not do something. WIthout the “excuses” and “stories” it’s just you being late over and over and over again. Maybe it’s not a gender thing afterall, just a tolerance thing and women tend to be more tolerant?

  • Barbara

    Informative and fun to read. Great writing. Thanks, Robin.

  • Kathryn Howell

    such a great post and so very true! In our office it is 5 women and 1 man and the women love to tell long stories and check in on every single detail. Definitely some great tips here for making a more successful work place with men :)

  • Heather Pouschine

    Right on target. Considering going back to paid work after a few years out and this advice is priceless.