In an article in the Economist, a neurosurgeon talks of her experience at a dinner party.
She was explaining a book she’d written to a group of people.
One of the men kept interrupting her.
He wanted to tell to her that he’d just read a book on that subject.
He wanted to explain various topics in the book to her.
His friends kept telling him it was her book he was talking about.
He interrupted three times before they eventually got through to him.
The neurosurgeon says this is an example of ‘mansplaining’.
Where men feel the need to put things into simpler terms for women.
But she says this is actually a misconception.
Women think men just do this because they patronise women.
Men do this to each other, they do it to everyone in fact.
‘Mansplaining’ isn’t exclusive to women.
It’s just that men are cruder creatures, and women, because of their more subtle and sophisticated communication mechanisms, interpret it as patronising.
For a woman to do it would indeed be patronising.
But for men, it’s just how they communicate.
Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook and previously Google, has written a book on this.
It’s called ‘Lean In’.
Put very crudely (well I am a man) men are on ‘broadcast’ women are on ‘receive’.
Or, as a female planner once explained it to me “Men talk at each other, women talk to each other”.
And women are responsible for encouraging men’s behaviour.
The neurosurgeon talks a bit more about that dinner party.
She says during the first half of the evening, she talked to the woman on her left.
She was also a medical specialist and they had a good conversation.
Discussing and exploring each other’s work.
During the second half of the evening, she turned to the man on her right.
She asked him what he did, and he told her.
Then she asked him some questions about his work, and he told her.
Then she asked him some more questions, and he told her more.
At no point did he ask her what she did, or even seem interested.
He did what a man does: answer questions and talk about what interests him.
She did what a woman does: ask questions about the other person.
So that, by the end of the evening, she and the woman on her left knew a lot about each other.
She also knew a lot about the man on her right.
But he knew absolutely nothing about her.
She says this is because men view communication as a ladder to be climbed, each one racing to get to the top.
Whereas women view communication as a web, creating new interlocking networks.
Her analysis is really interesting.
It could explain why women work better in jobs where interpersonal skills are important.
Why women make better account handlers, management, and CEOs.
And why men work better in creative departments.
Women are more naturally geared to develop relationships, to create a bond one-on-one.
Men are more geared to winning in a competitive environment.
Making sure their advertising dominates and achieves cut-through and standout against the competition.
Of course, as the article was at pains to point out, it’s a generalisation and not true in all cases.
But it’s crude enough for men to understand.