Like many of you, I entered the work force pretty early. Waitressing, teaching fitness classes and police dispatching helped pay the bills in college, and then at age twenty one I became a cop. In the early years of my career I was primarily focused on learning the job, staying alive and like many female cops, trying to become “one of the boys,” which didn’t always work out well for me. However, when I became field training officer I began to study and understand the “real” differences between men and women, and that lead to a journey that I’m still on today. After over three decades in police work and law enforcement training, I look back now and wish I’d known a little more about navigating a male-dominated work place when I was first starting out in 1980.
As I teach both men and women in my public safety classes, women don’t just have different “parts,” we have plenty of physiological differences that affect, and often enhance, the way we do our job. We have about 60% of the hand strength of men, our fingers average one knuckle length shorter, and (no surprise here) our hips are wider. We also have a lower center of gravity, better joint and spinal flexibility, and excellent manual dexterity. All of our senses with the exception of frontal vision are superior to that of men; a woman’s best vision is peripheral. We hear better, our senses of touch and smell are more sensitive, and our sense of taste is more acute. If we train ourselves to truly listen with all of our senses, we will notice small changes in people that will help us read a situation more accurately; it’s what some people used to call “women’s intuition.” Being physically different from men certainly doesn’t mean we’re at a disadvantage, but we need to be more aware of our own physiology from a scientific standpoint so that we can make informed decisions about our gear, our uniforms, and our training.
Women like to talk; in fact, communication is essential to our emotional survival. When women engage in talking activities (conversation, texting, emailing and more) we release “feel good” hormones like dopamine and oxytocin, so yeah, we like to talk! We tend to make more eye contact than men, we often stop what we are doing to listen to others, and we tend to wait until others are done speaking before we join the conversation. Women are generally comfortable sharing personal information, while men tend to keep things “strictly business” in a group setting. Understanding these differences will go a long way in working successfully with men, and with other women. Recognize that in a male-dominated situation, such as a meeting, you need to keep your statements short and to the point if you want to be heard. Learn how to “interrupt” or insert yourself into the discussion politely but assertively if you have a point to make and try not to end your sentences with an upward, or questioning, tone. When it comes to emails, limit the body to two short paragraphs or less and if you have more information to share, put it into an attached document. Keep gossip out of the workplace, and keep the sharing of personal information to a minimum unless you’re amongst true friends.
Conflict in the workplace is inevitable, and as author Patrick Lencioni outlines in his book “Five Dysfunctions of a Team,” allowing and properly managing conflict among co-workers is a productive element of any workplace team. However, men and women handle conflict differently, and women need to know how to leverage these differences to their advantage. Control your emotions and don’t keep bringing up the past. Instead, communicate forward: acknowledge the conflict and then ask “so, how do we move past this.” Don’t engage in personal attacks, keep it professional and relevant. Don’t email when you are angry and don’t read emotion or tone into texts, emails or directives. If you’re wondering if there’s more than meets the eye in a particular communication or comment, ask. And don’t hold a grudge; once the conflict is over, shake hands, hold your head high, and get back to work. Understand the amazing power of forgiveness and learn to “let it go.”