Meeting in the Middle: Networking With the Opposite Sex Men and women approach networking from two different directions, but if you want to build relationships and create opportunities, you need to find common ground.
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The following is an excerpt from Business Networking and Sex (Not What You Think) (Entrepreneur Press, 2012) by Ivan Misner, Hazel M. Walker and Frank J. De Raffele Jr. The book parses data from a survey of more than 12,000 businesspeople that focused on gender differences in networking to understand communication roadblocks between women and men and to provide breakthroughs that can help improve results.
Related: "Which Way Is Best: Relationships First or Business First?" by Frank J. De Raffele Jr.
Since the early 1990s, much research has been done on communication between the sexes by psychologists, biologists and neuroscientists. It's clear that there are indeed brain differences between men and women that impact the way each prefers to communicate.
Women communicate from a place of emotion. They like to share the details of how, why and where, as well as the feelings and emotions surrounding the information they convey.
When women are together, they go deep in conversations with one another, both in groups and one-on-one meetings. They communicate their experiences, sharing stories and collaborating for group consensus. The next time you have the opportunity to listen to a group of women, notice how they support and add to one another's stories and conversation themes.
I attended the first meeting of a new women's group one evening and was surprised how much personal information they shared with one another, having just met the other women in the group that night. I was also fascinated by how emotional they quickly became, revealing how they deeply felt about the things they talked about. It didn't take long for the conversation to swing around to men and how lacking they are in building up the personal elements of relationships.
Research has shown that women use twice as many words a day as men. We chat with our girlfriends and form deep relationships based on those chats. When we're having a conversation with someone, we're gauging the ability to connect and build trust and understanding.
John Gray, author of the "Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus" books about gender and communication, says:
"When women are in a networking situation, they have a greater tendency to get to know people, and demonstrate that they are worthy of trust by showing interest and asking questions. Unfortunately, they're expecting the other person to reciprocate interest, which they may not always do. What women are not aware of is that what works with women does not always work with men."
When men are networking, their emphasis is on establishing who they are, what they've accomplished and achieved, what their responsibilities are, and what they can provide. They focus on how all of that can benefit others in terms of profitability, efficiency, and other benefits. Women don't end up having the opportunity to share what they have to offer and generate a business deal after all of that.
In other words, ladies, this is the point when we may be dismissed as not serious about our businesses. We fail to impress when we deviate to relational conversation, leaving the male to whom we are talking to believe that we are not serious.
This is key information for women to understand when they network with men. Men want to build credibility fast, and they want women to do the same. They want to know what women have achieved, what they're doing now, and how it can help them. In theory, this should work well in the networking world.
This is the very reason women feel networking is too sales-y and men feel that women don't take their businesses seriously. We come at this communication from two completely different motives. When women are communicating, they're trying to build a relationship of trust, and what the guy hears is a bunch of stuff he's not that interested in. So, ladies, let's try spending a little time impressing with our credentials "man style" and then hone in on the relationship-building questions. This quote from a survey respondent sums it up very well:
Generally speaking, I find that men are a lot more "in your face" when it comes to networking. Women often talk about everything but the business when you first meet -- like movies, restaurants, and family. Then we talk about business. Men tend to get to the purpose of the conversation faster. This possibly helps make their conversations shorter, but I'm not sure that it fosters trust or strong relationships as much. The men I like to refer business to tend to be chatty, friendly men, because I feel I know them better.
Have you danced awkwardly with someone because you're both trying to lead? Whether it's the two-step or the cha-cha, both of you will fail if you mow down the other's moves. Yes, I know. That's the way most men dance anyway, but you know what I mean, ladies.
Both of us have to be dancing our complementary roles in the same dance for things to work. Ladies, you are not going to be seen as serious about your business if you can't tell men about your accomplishments and goals and how that will help them. You've got to be able to brag up your own credibility. The biggest complaint I get from women is that networking with men is too sales-y. Maybe the real problem is that we're just not saying what they want to hear. If they want a two-step and we want a cha-cha, there are going to be some bruised shins.
And, men, you can't impress women by dominating the conversation with what you've done and what you'll do for them. That's not even a conversation.