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They also, of course, use questions in the traditional way—to solicit information, to build consensus around an idea, or to develop their staff members and help them rethink their positions, plans, or ideas.

Men, on the other hand, do not always recognize indirect messages or pick up on nuances in words or body language. In short, they don’t always accurately “read between the lines” to understand the meaning of a woman’s question. The results: (1) Women ask questions that are meant in a variety of ways, and men may ignore their implied objections and feelings. (2) Women ask questions that are meant only to solicit information, to which men may react defensively.

Tip 1. (for women) State Your Objections Directly.

Not: “Do you really think we should leave early?” But: “I don’t think we should leave early.” Not: “How much higher did you say Vendor A’s bid is?” But: “I think Vendor A’s bid is too high.”

Tip 2. (for men) Verify Whether Questions Are Solicitations of Information or Objections, Then Respond Appropriately.

If you’re not sure how to take a question, probe before answering. Here’s an example:

WOMAN: Have you already signed the contract for the new equipment?

MAN: Not yet. I’ll get to it later in the week.

WOMAN: Didn’t John have some concerns about the terms?

MAN: He cleared those up in the last meeting.

WOMAN: Do you think we should just forget about the staffing priorities, since this new equipment purchase will eat up all our cash this quarter?

MAN: I’m sensing maybe you’re not sure that buying the equipment is a good decision. Do you still have some reservations there?

WOMAN: Well, yes, . . . I do. I think that . . .

Once objections are in the open, you can deal with them more effectively.

Details or Big Picture?

Women generally push for details for three reasons: to show concern about a person or situation, to vicariously participate in an experience or conversation, and to verify assumptions and check for accuracy. Men tend to gather details just long enough to get the big-picture message and then dump them as trivial, not worth remembering.

The results: (1) When men don’t ask about or share the details of a situation, women sometimes think that they don’t care about the people involved. (2) Women sometimes think that men intend to be secretive and distant. (3) Women sometimes doubt men’s conclusions because they fear that men have missed some of the important details. (4) Men sometimes think that women “waste time” on the details rather than get to the main point. (5) Men think some details are irrelevant to their conclusions.

Tip 3. (for women) Get to the Point in Meetings.

If a discussion of the details is not germane to the point in a team meeting, be aware of men’s impatience with them. State your big-picture assessment and offer the details as an option. If no one solicits the details behind your conclusions, omit them and save yourself the trouble.

Tip 4. (for women) Ask for Details to Verify Meaning.

In “sticky” situations, continue to probe for details to verify meanings and reach accurate conclusions.

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