When Networking, Vive la Difference?

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Vive la DifferenceAre men and women really so different. . . or do we have a tendency to focus on what makes us different instead of how we are similar?

That question forms the basis of my new book, Business Networking and Sex: Not What You Think (Entrepreneur Press, 2012), which draws on the results of a four-year survey of more than 12,000 businesspeople. In addition to my perspective, Frank DeRaffele provides a male viewpoint and Hazel Walker writes from the female perspective.

As it turns out, men and women are alike in many ways. They just seem to get to the same place using different roads. But if men and woman could understand some fundamental points, they could certainly be more successful when networking with the opposite sex.

It's interesting that our study revealed two very distinct facts, seemingly at odds with one another. The first is that both men and women want to get business from networking and are willing to work hard at it. The second is that they seem to make things difficult for themselves by networking only in the style their own gender prefers and understands. That is as counterproductive as a relationship between a man and a woman based either on only what the man wants or only what the woman wants. If they both hope to stay married, they quickly figure out what it takes to make the other person happy.

Related: Which Way Is Best: Relationships First or Business First?

When they network, many men need to try harder to avoid offending women -- or at least being misunderstood by them. Until men overcome such communication problems, they will continue to miss out on the potential to do business with women. For their part, women can help by speaking up when a man acts boorish, rather than walking away and vowing never to do business with him.

Because people make assessments based on facial expressions, gestures, tone, manners and even smell, both men and women can benefit from better understanding gender-specific communication styles and preferences. They need to adapt their behavior to what the opposite sex expects, much as they would observe local customs when traveling in a foreign land. For example, women shouldn't be shy about talking up their accomplishments and asking for help. Men appreciate a direct, assertive approach.

Not only does networking play a major role in business growth, but it also paves the way for a happy and secure life. Surely, anyone can see the benefits of having a pool of amiable friends and associates ready to look out for them and send good things their way. Consequently, it is important for anyone working in the business world to understand both the similarities and differences between the networking styles of men and women. At the end of the day, we all want the same outcome; we just have different ways of getting there.

Here are some tips to start you on your way to success in networking with the opposite sex:

For women:

  • When asking for help, clearly communicate exactly what you want.
  • Men want to be impressed, so tout your accomplishments.
  • If treated inappropriately, speak up about it immediately.

For men:

  • Slow down and work on building a relationship.
  • Filter your comments, sifting out what is not appropriate in a business context.
  • Recognize that women are serious about their business and are at networking events to make gains, just as you are.

Related: Networking With the Opposite Sex

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