Saturday, March 08, 2008

- Channel Your Inner Guy...

Just attended a presentation given by a very smart and talented group of people, but I came away with a powerful impression about girlspeak and boyspeak and a compelling message for people of the female persuasion:

You have got to Channel your Inner Guy when you speak publicly!

Both men and women presented. Both were smart, articulate, but the impact was night and day. Now there were some great women speakers and some not so great men, but there was a steriotypic role tendency that I fall into myself that hit me over the head listening.

You know where I'm taking this. Girlspeak meant presenting their recommendations tentatively, their language filled with caveats, 'mights,' 'coulds,' efforts to please, to question, to solicit approval, information couched with options and alternatives. If they were a dog, they'd be approaching you head down, ears flattened, tail low and wagging frantically.

And of course the guys would say their piece much more directly and quickly, with focus, specifics, to the point, putting their opinion out there, appearing to know everything, taking the risk. If they were a dog, they'd be sitting up straight or standing, ears pricked, legs apart, tail high, barking loudly for attention.

At worst, boyspeak delivers the not-too-subtle tyranny and bullying of 'my way or the highway,' 'there is one correct opinion & you have just heard it, no conversation, questions or dissent will be tolerated' and other forms of oppressive language. And girlspeak is sensitized--in the worst case, over sensitized--to that, and can go too far to compensate. But let me tell you, boyspeak was a lot easier to listen to!

Frankly, it is exhausting to listen to girlspeak. My stomach was clenched the whole time wondering where the sentences were going, whether there was any certainty or clarity I could hang my hat on, or whether it was all just a morass of possibilities that I was now supposed to figure out and sort through without clear direction, just a few gentle hints and hopes expressed.

I think there's a happy medium--a combining of forces that is what a good relationship is all about--that captures the best of both.

It entails channeling your inner guy--you've seen it in the yin yang symbol, or C.G. Jung's animus/anima: finding that core piece of "other"--of our own direct opposite--that we carry within ourselves.

It means speaking clearly, confidently, directly, with passion and commitment to your point of view--but setting things up briefly at the beginning and/or at the end in a way that opens the door to feedback, or sets up the points to be discussed, what those discussion goals are & how that feedback will be managed.

All tentative and qualifying terms need to be ruthlessly eradicated from the general text. If you can't bear to get rid of them entirely (I can't) they go into a one sentence direct, opinionated qualifier. You don't need to say the recommendations are just your opinion (duh!) and for heaven's sake don't be apologetic about having an opinion; you insult the person who is asking you for it.

No one is interested in how nervous you are or how unqualified you feel; they just want you to tell them what you know or recommend in as clear and compelling a manner as you can.

Just shut up about everything else. Ask yourself, would a guy ask that? Say that? Worry about that? No. So forget it.

Later, you can graciously open the door to comments (but don't stop channeling your inner guy).


Shirley Hailstock said...

Yeah! Isabel. This is how I feel sitting in workshops when the person asking the question puts all these qualifiers in front of the question.

Just ask it and let's move on.


Isabel Swift said...

Thanks Shirley! Sad but true, like the "This is probably a stupid question, but..." Let people make up their own minds!

stephe said...


I just realized that there is quite a bit of this going on in my writers' group when we critique--and has been for years. And I am just as guilty.

This month's critique meeting is in two weeks... *rubbing hands together with glee* I wonder who will notice the difference in the way I pose questions and ideas first--the men or the women?

Valuable post. Thanks SO much, Isabel.

Isabel Swift said...

Stephe: delighted to be of service. Yes, girlspeak is often so unconsciously woven in to the fabric of our discourse & self presentation it's scary. I have to double think and challenge myself to "channel" a lot!

Also have same post on LJ: garnered comments--enjoyed your LJ blog & thoughts on dubbed Vs subtitled. Totally agree.

Lorie-eHarlequin said...

Hi Isabel.

Interesting post, and very true. I think most of us could learn to be more direct.

Isabel Swift said...

Hey Lorie, thanks for stopping by! Yes, "more direct"--and captured within that statement there's the fact that to be more direct, you must be (or appear to be)more confident, willing to be wrong (you haven't protected yourself with a lot of caveats and mumbles), and the idea must be thought through clearly.

Was listening to a podcast interview of Madeline Albright who said she had to 'learn to interrupt' as a woman, and not wait to be called on. But she added that meant she had to have something clear, focussed and powerful to say. I like to think she channeled her Inner Guy...

Anne McAllister said...

Oh, you are so right, Isabel. I noticed that not long ago when I was listening to a couple of authors talk at my local library.

I have to stop myself from doing it, too. When I recently wrote a letter to city hall about an ice issue, I gave it to one of my sons to read and he said, "Yeah, you're right. But they don't need to know all that. Tell 'em what the problem is; tell them how to fix it; and then tell them you expect them to do it. And move on."

Just like Shirley said!

Isabel Swift said...

Anne--lovely to see you! I snatched up a copy of your ONE-NIGHT LOVE CHILD Presents and its on my TBR pile.

So true--and it sounds so simple when they say it, doesn't it: What do you want them to do. Do it. Now.

That's not to say diplomacy, nuance and tact don't have their power and their place. But perhaps we're still speaking the language of the disenfranchised, and that's holding us back.

Anne McAllister said...

Isabel, have you seen the book, How Men Think, by Adrienne Mendell? The subtitle is "The seven essential rules for making it in a man's world." She goes a bit wobbly and off-topic at the end (and I read it 8 years ago) but I thought it had a lot to recommend it.

I gave it to a not quite daughter-in-law so she could communicate with my son (because God knew he wasn't going to modify the way he thought to tiptoe around her!)

Hope you enjoy the One-Night Love Child when it makes it to the top of the TBR -- it's a Code of the West book in Wolf's clothing.

Christina Skye said...

Excellent topic, Isabel.

You hit the nail on the head when you brought up the tentatives and conditionals that we women speakers too often use. There's no better way to slow down the delivery and lose the audience completely.

You targeted the deeper issue, too -- how conditional thinking can get woven deep into our internal dialogue. Maybe it's about passion too. About letting our passion and enthusiams be clear and direct, right out front and center. Men aren't always passionate speakers, but they do know how to get to the point...

Very thought provoking topic.

Isabel Swift said...

Christina, how excellent to see you here.

It's interesting how so often a blending of the stereotypic male and female is what delivers the ideal--passionate, yet coherent and compelling.

Probably why we continue to be fascinated by the conundrum of figuring out how men and women can get along...aka writing and reading romances!