You know those times when you are purposely explaining your approach in the spirit of healthy collaboration and somehow the only man in the room is the one monopolising the floor and repeating what you have just outlined, thinking they are proposing something new? Yes, you know how that feels… you have just been mansplained.
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I am convinced that life is a learning journey, where we grow through rethinking, sharing and connecting with others along the way. The world we inhabit faces huge challenges and we need to collectively roll up our sleeves to innovate and do so sustainably, otherwise we are headed towards a wall. So, let’s start by listening to each other.
Let’s get a few obvious points out of the way so that we can all relax and read in good intelligence:
- Of course, not all men mansplain. There are very great men capable of listening to their female colleagues, who do not feel the need to constantly be the centre of attention.
- There are also great men out there who, although feel the need to be the centre of attention, are conscious of it and are trying to be better at not imposing their insecurities onto their female colleagues.
- Men do not have the monopole on condescension, women are capable of it too.
- We are not going to solve this issue by writing a blog post about it. But we can try to provide some tips to move forward…
What causes mansplaining? Inequal societal frameworks can foster and validate the types of behaviours that reinforce the dominant status quo. As such, men may feel entitled to engage in this type of practice because they still enjoy a dominant position over women in society and because they are taught from a very young age that being confident and outspoken is being ‘manly’.
It is such a common phenomenon, part of our daily lives, that a lot of mansplaining goes unnoticed. This is frustrating because the big challenges we face in life require inclusive perspectives, and a lot of interesting ideas are being shut down. Some views are never getting heard, simply because they are not being communicated by the ‘right’ messenger.
How does this relate to innovation? The arts of collaboration and innovation require a lot of dedication. To rethink the way we do things and create more sustainable models, we have to be confident enough to question the status quo, while keeping in mind that it takes a LOT of courage to self-assess and ask for feedback. As Adam Grant points out, “It takes confident humility to admit that we’re work in progress. It shows that we care more about improving ourselves than proving ourselves”. It should therefore be considered a strength to lead and innovate by fostering open dialogue. What mansplainers essentially do through their attitude is make it harder for leaders who display this vulnerability.
Now, let’s be clear, there is a nuance which might be hard for some to grapple with: asking for collective feedback is quite different from asking someone to be told how to do one’s job. Giving people some space should not entitle them to take everyone else’s space with them. On top of being intolerable, this behaviour is also counterproductive because it can easily cause some to snap up like an oyster because it is indeed much easier to impose one’s view than to reveal what can be perceived as a sign of weakness. As the brilliant Brené Brown tells us: “No vulnerability, no creativity. No tolerance for failure, no innovation. It is that simple. If you’re not willing to fail, you can’t innovate. If you’re not willing to build a vulnerable culture, you can’t create.”
So if we want to collectively tackle our global challenges, we need to be comfortable with the fact that we do not know everything and give to others and ourselves the space to be authentic and imperfect.
To those who might have a tendency to mansplain, here is some advice:
- Try to listen. Yes, listen, which is different from projecting what you think the other person is saying, listening to the sound of your own voice or simply speaking over other people. This is certainly not an easy task!
- Here’s a good graph that can help you identify whether you are indeed mansplaining!
- Be aware of your upbringing: you probably have been conditioned into thinking that monopolising the floor is the way to project certainty and confidence.
- Embrace vulnerability: listening to others will not be an indication of lack of knowledge or weakness, quite the contrary.
- If someone asks a question you do not know the answer to, own it. Say it. This shows confidence and the person posing the question will respect you for it rather than if you were to explain everything you do know.
- Put on your Non-Violent Communication (NVC) cap and take a tour on the other person’s ‘mountain’: How would you feel in her place? Is it something that you actually want to make the other feel? What does this auto-pilot reaction of yours reflect inside?
- Remember that asking a question is not the same as asking for advice. If she is asking for your advice, she will say so. In giving your advice though, please avoid repeating the same thing she said slightly differently. Give respectful and timely feedback in an open dialogue rather than a ‘one-way’ explanation.
- Try to ‘read the room’, if others, especially women look uncomfortable, this could be a good indication that you have overstepped.
To those of you who will be mansplained, yet again, here are some tips that have worked for me while being mansplained:
- Focus on your breathing.
- Embrace vulnerability: be confident in your intelligence and experience and in the fact that showing authenticity is absolutely not a sign of weakness.
- Assume best intentions – ‘He probably thinks he is trying to help and may not realise he is doing it’ – but firmly point out that you would also like to hear the perspectives of others in the group (there are most likely clever women who did not speak up and have something very interesting to say).
- When you recognise this behaviour, don’t let it go unnoticed. Whether it is happening to you or to a colleague, encourage your peers to be brave enough to flag it!
- Share your experiences with women and men around you, and collectively discuss ways to overcome this issue.
- Lead by example: pay respect to other people’s contributions to the team’s work (by both women and men) and ensure that others in your team do, too.
- Exercise NVC, but be firm and assertive about your boundaries.
- Act on what you can control. You are not responsible for the others’ behaviours, only your reaction.
- Write a blog post about it …
Bringing this topic up has sparked interesting conversations within LGI, which has led to collective thinking on how to address the issue both at a personnel level and an organisational level. If this topic speaks to you, feel free to share your own experience and views with us on Twitter and LinkedIn – and I encourage you to spark these conversations within your own organisations, too!
The views and opinions expressed in this blogpost are solely those of the original author(s) and/or contributor(s). These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of LGI or the totality of its staff.