In like a lion, out like a lamb

Last week I had the privilege of speaking at the U.S. Naval Weapons Station (NWS) Earle as part of a ceremony honoring Women’s History Month.  This was my first experience speaking at an active military base.   I have always had a spot in my heart for the men and women that serve our country and came away from NWS Earle so proud of the men and women I met from the Commanding Officer (CO) down to the seamen.  Bright, inquisitive, skilled and caring individuals I walked away with a sense of pride in the Navy. Talk about engagement! The servicemen and women and those employed by the Department of Defense who attended the ceremony, were courteous, curious, involved and questioning.  They were open to new information, knowledge, and willing to share their own point of view.  One person talked with pride about how far the Navy has come in bringing women into the organization.  The CO added that since the Navy recruits new people regularly they must be vigilant to insure the equality and continually heighten awareness of issues and concerns and provide support.

Other things that peaked my attention were:

  • There was cordiality as well as formality something those of us out of the service don’t usually experience.  Everyone I met was polite and welcoming.  Security at the entrance gates was firm and followed protocol.
  • When I walked into the building with CO Captain Harrison, he was announced and everyone stood.  Don’t recall ever having had an experience like that.
  • Everyone is addressed by their last name or rank so that there is really no way to know if you are addressing a man or a woman unless they are in front of you.

I think we can learn from some of these young men and women, and their leaders who have decided to serve their country.

My talk included a funny clip from the movie Operation Petticoat (view clip at the bottom of this page). I introduce Deborah Tannen’s research from her seminal work, You Just Don’t Understand.  Tannen looks closely at the differences between how women and men are socialized and how this can lead to communication challenges.

According to Tannen, conversation is what men use to negotiate their status in an organization and keep people from “pushing” them around. Men use talk to preserve independence and autonomy.

Females, on the other hand, use conversation to negotiate closeness and familiarity. For women, talking is the foundation of building relationships, so being best friends, for example, means sitting and talking.

In conclusion, a shift has been taking place that has had men and women throughout the world moving from a family-based relationship orientation to one of men and women being managers, colleagues and team members.  Carlotta Tyler in her work on gender appreciation highlights this paradigm shift.  Emphasizing appreciation rather than differences is for many a safer place within which to explore beliefs, stereotypes and behaviors that get in the way of more effective communication.  More effective communication is an essential ingredient of an engaged organization.