Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

The Trouble With Men at Work, part 1 of 2

July 27th, 2009 | Bob Rosner

LA Dodger outfielder Manny Ramirez missed almost a third of a season because he was found to have artificial testosterone and a female fertility drug in his system during drug testing. Unfortunately Manny isn’t the only person walking around with an artificially high level of testosterone in his system. In most of the workplaces I’ve seen, Manny wouldn’t crack the testosterone top ten. Heck, he’d probably also have more women hormones than most of the women at work, but we’ll cover that next week.

I can remember many conversations at work where former bosses would start to pull out the war metaphors—“This is a life and death struggle,” “We are in a battle for our very existence,” and “This is all out war.” The only problem was that it wasn’t actually war—it was computer software, TV news and corporate training videos.

This kind of talk not only cheapens warfare, it cheapens whatever work people are actually trying to get done during their 9-5 grind.

It’s also worth noting how it’s always the guys who have never been in battle who tend to use war metaphors. Except for the former military types who are consultants for big defense profiteers, most of the people who’ve actually been in battle seem more interested in forgetting it than spewing it out in every business meeting.

I think it all comes down to one thing, insecurity. Most guys are cardboard cut outs. They wouldn’t know a real emotional feeling if it snuck up behind them and bit them on the butt. I know, I used to be like that.

Okay, before you start dashing off that email to me, think about it guys. When was the last time you said “I don’t know” in a meeting? Or asked a person who reported to you for their advice on how to handle a difficult situation? Or admitted a mistake before there was any evidence that you’d made one? Most of the guys that I’ve met would rather drink Clorox than show any shred of vulnerability at work. Or at home. Or in a place other than work or home.

Why? There are many reasons. From trying to be a good provider, to wanting to be seen as tough, to being told when you were nine that big boys don’t cry. Wherever it comes from, men are almost raised to be emotionally non-existent or emotionally brittle.

[Before you get all worked up about the fact that I’m being harsh on men, please note in the title, this is only part 1. Next week is part 2, “The Trouble With Women at Work.”]

To me it all comes down to two concepts, control and vulnerability. Guys, when was the last time you gave up even the slightest bit of control? And I’m not just talking about at work. Heck, I’ve seen guys cut someone off on the highway rather than letting them merge into traffic. We’re built to compete 24 x 7. Even when competing is totally counter-productive.

Which leads to the real “kryptonite” of this story—vulnerability. If giving up a bit of control is anathema in most workplaces, vulnerability is the place to avoid at all costs. All costs. I know what you’re thinking, vulnerability is weakness and must always be avoided.

Maybe I’m the one drinking Clorox here, but I think vulnerability actually shows how strong you are. That you have the confidence to let down your guard. That you can really speak from the heart. That you are real; that to me is the ultimate strength.

Next week I’ll do my best to annoy the other half. Cheers.

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. If you have a question for Bob, contact him via bob@workplace911.com.

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