Supervisor/Employee Gender Relationships

Female bosses are often misunderstood by male subordinates.

Female bosses are often misunderstood by male subordinates.

Men don’t really come from another planet, but sometimes it seems that way because they are hard wired differently than women. Millennia spent hunting for food caused their brains to evolve in a different way than the brains of women, who stayed in villages and banded together to take care of children and defend themselves against predatory animals. Nonetheless, women and men can operate effectively in supervisor-employee relationships if they learn to understand these innate differences and to adjust accordingly.

Women Supervising Women

If you think that women are happier working for female bosses, think again. Women suffered higher psychological distress and more related physical symptoms, such as fatigue and headaches, when working for a female boss than they did under a male boss, according to a 2008 study by University of Toronto researchers Scott Schieman and Taralyn McMullen based on data from a 2005 national survey of adult workers in the United States. Although women understand each other better than they understand their male counterparts, they are uncomfortable with one woman rising above the pack, as Georgetown University sociolinguist Deborah Tannen points out in her book “Talking from 9 to 5.”

Cross-Gender Communication

Physiological and societal differences between men and women lead to major communication disconnects. Men generally operate in a hierarchy, so they give orders easily. Women bosses, however, tend to be more indirect. Their orders may not be understood as directives because they tend to use qualifiers such as “Could you” or ”I need,” which male subordinates may view as signals that the task is optional. While men tend to be invigorated by conflict, women tend to avoid it, but are more likely to internalize disagreement and chew on their anger for a while. Men hate to ask questions because they view them as a sign of weakness. By contrast, women view questions as a sign that the speaker is interested and engaged.

Communicating with Male Bosses

Men are by nature “get down to business” types. They see little point in small talk or touchy-feely stuff. When speaking to a male boss, make sure your facts are lined up and click through them efficiently. Don’t dwell on how you feel about a crisis or challenge; offer up solutions instead. Learn to take credit for your achievements by using the pronoun “I” rather than “we” when talking about something that you did personally.

Supervising Men

When dealing with male subordinates, be clear and specific when you give orders, and include a due date. Focus on actions and, when someone makes a mistake, point it out once and then move on. Don’t revisit the failure repeatedly. Encourage subordinates to ask questions, for example by saying, “Do you have all the information you need?” Be sure to give praise and rewards. Men need to feel like going the extra mile helped them move a notch above their competitors.

 

References

About the Author

A retired federal senior executive currently working as a management consultant and communications expert, Mary Bauer has written and edited for senior U.S. government audiences, including the White House, since 1984. She holds a Master of Arts in French from George Mason University and a Bachelor of Arts in English, French and international relations from Aquinas College.

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