When exploring the challenges men and women face in the workplace, men will often state that women ask too many questions. Some men even say it’s their top challenge, especially during meetings when they view women’s questions as slowing down progress or delaying decision-making.
Women commonly agree that they do ask more questions than men, but that their questions are intended to create a collaborative environment, stimulate an exchange of ideas, discover what’s important, and arrive at a best possible outcome.
Women often ask questions to build consensus and explore all sides of an issue before making a decision. By asking, “What do you think?” a woman is not necessarily looking for a solution, but is trying to create a conversation, or strengthen a relationship.
Men aren’t so prone to building consensus and tend to be more comfortable thinking and processing their ideas alone, even while they’re working with others! They’re more inclined to announce their opinions, be more direct in their requests, and seldom ask for support unless they’re overwhelmed by a problem.
In team meetings and one-on-one discussions, a woman will often demonstrate her interest and concern by asking clarifying questions to draw people out and encourage them to share their ideas. Seldom will a man consider drawing another man out to encourage his participation. He assumes that if another man has something to say, he’ll speak his mind or remain quiet.
When men do ask questions, they are often more direct than women and less likely to take personal offense when someone is direct with them. Approach a man indirectly and he can become frustrated, confused, and even offended with questions that he may interpret as time-consuming, indecisive, or personal.
A man doesn’t mind being challenged as long as he senses that his words and actions are not being taken personally. When a man believes that he’s being doubted, criticized, or blamed, he’ll tend to react in a defensive manner, or he’ll become frustrated and go silent because he can no longer be, or be seen as, the solution to the problem.
The challenge for men is not to view women’s questions as an impulse that needs to be tolerated or minimized, or even avoided by navigating around issues, but to consider her questioning as a valuable and complementary instinctive reaction that balances his inclination to move quickly.
The challenge for women is not in asking fewer questions, but in understanding why men tend to believe women ask too many, and discovering how to frame their questions in more direct ways that men can better understand and act upon.
© 2014 Barbara Annis. This post originally appeared on Barbara Annis & Associates Inc. Used with permission.