Tamara Star pulls back the curtain and peers behind the male facade.
After the food and first round of drinks, after the talk of our careers and our families, after the sharing of dreams and goals, our girl’s night out conversations usually head into a predictable direction—straight towards men.
Many female clients complain: What’s wrong with men? Why can’t they shoot straight? Why does he shut down and stop communicating?
I too remember feeling confused, hurt and pissed off myself when it came to trying to figure men out back in the time of my corporate days.
Today I work with men behind the scenes. I talk to them when they’re at the top of their game and at the other end of the spectrum when they’re down on their knees.
Since I own a recruiting and coaching firm, I’ve probably spoken to over 15,000 men in the last 10 years. I’ve been able to peek behind the facade because when a man is worried about his career, his barriers and boundaries fall quickly. I’ve deciphered some of their seemingly maddening quirks and traits because they opened up to me.
Most of us complain that men are shut down in one breath, and complain they’re too emotional in the next; but the truth is: men are striving for balance in a world where the rules of masculinity are changing.
If you’ve been wounded deeply by men, this isn’t going to be easy to read, so let me make it easier on you: I’m not writing about the men who’ve been so wounded themselves that they hurt on purpose, rape and abuse. I’m writing about the average Joe, the healthy guy that you love but wonder why he can’t shoot straight and why he shuts down.
So here goes.
Why do men shut down?
- Men shut down because the emotional rules they learned as boys were different than ours.
Boys were often forced to “buck up” and stuff their emotions rather than express them. Think about it: peers usually ostracize a crying boy over the age of 7. When young boys naturally start to bond with dad, old rules such as buck up, boys don’t cry and get over it from prior generations are passed on. Each year, a young boy’s heart becomes more and more protected with each new wound without a real outlet for emotions available.
Can you imagine a male corporate executive sitting at his desk crying over a misunderstanding in the board room? It doesn’t happen. He might feel like it, but he does what he was taught– he shuts it down.
We on the other hand, regardless of our own dysfunctional childhood, usually grow up and find comfort through our female friendships—for us it’s considered normal to cry, vent, and express emotion.
Have you ever walked into the women’s restroom at work to find a female co-worker in tears? Your first reaction wouldn’t be: buck up, it would be: what’s wrong? what happened? Instantly we women offer support—even to strangers. Female executives probably won’t let you see them crying either, but chances are there’s a good friend later that will witness her emotions.
Men don’t do that. They shut down, file away and compartmentalize what’s going on.
There’s no right or wrong, there’s only differences in the way we process.
From the outside we think men shut down. From their viewpoint, they’re dealing with it in the way society expects—alone.
Men aren’t naturally encouraged to release their pain and express hurt, so to get by they add armor to their hearts against further pain.
How do we navigate?
- We can take a step back after an argument and not take their lack of immediate communication personally, but instead take a time out.
Men want to please the women they love. When we receive a closed down reaction during a fight, a man is usually in pain- not over the fight- but over the reality of our displeasure.
Think about this: men don’t close down with other men during a fight. They fight it out. With women, men go to a different place emotionally. They’re immediately trying to figure a way through the disagreement while feeling the pain of disappointing us.
Why won’t he shoot straight?
- Men have no problem asking for what they want in business. For the most part, they shoot straight, don’t mince words and are clear about their desired outcomes. But outside of the office? Not so much.
Most women agree witnessing an empowered man opening his heart, despite his wounding, and putting it all out there in a vulnerable way—is sexy.
Sexy, but not easy. Most men have been shamed in their past for asking for what they want. They’ve been shamed for wanting sex, shamed for feeling attraction and shamed for their vulnerability.
If you’ve been previously wounded by an aggressive man and are approached by a healthy man asking openly for what he wants, you might shut down. Now the next woman he approaches might experience him as a man who dances around what he really wants—afraid to ask openly.
What a conundrum eh? A lot of us are wounded and afraid to trust, and many men are wounded and afraid to open.
Why is it they can shoot so straight in business but act like they have a mouth filled with marbles and their lips taped shut when it comes to communicating with women?
Because they don’t want to screw up. In business, men usually feel in control of their situation, they are linear thinkers. In love-there’s no control of the outcome.
Psychology Today reports “Men tend to be very linear—they go from point A to point B. Women, on the other hand, tend to think more globally and consider the big picture.”
So what can we do?
- We as women, can be patient when men talk with us, give them time and space to express themselves and understand they don’t communicate like our female friends. Women can toggle back and forth between head and heart in seconds. Men are linear. They think and feel -but not necessarily at the same time. It takes them longer to process their emotions.
Too often we think our men won’t share their feelings or shoot straight, yet the truth is, they will if we give them some time to feel and express them.
I tell female clients to count to 10 silently after their men stop talking to give them a chance to feel, think and speak again. 9 out of 10 times, they do.
In business and with other males, men shoot straight because their hearts aren’t involved. In relation to you—it is.
Have you ever witnessed someone speaking English louder and louder to someone who clearly doesn’t speak the same language? Expecting our men to communicate like our female friends is just like that—a dead end. There’s no right or wrong when it comes to male versus female communication patterns, there are only differences. When we understand these differences, speaking the universal language of love gets a whole lot easier.
Photo: Photo Extremist/Flickr