The Battle of the Sexes

Is open conflict a 'guy thing?' You betcha.

By Tony Noel

My girlfriend and I were talking about a situation at work. I had decided it was time to spell things out to an associate and had done so, in very clear - and shall we say, colorful - terms.

"If I said anything like that at work," she said, "I'd be looking for a new job."

"But you wouldn't say anything like that, would you?"

"No, of course not."

"Why?" I pressed the issue.

"Because it's not acceptable."

"Not acceptable?"

"Not professional."

"I'll concede that point," I allowed. "But I had to do it."

"Why?" Now she pressed me.

"Because I'd tried every other tact, all to no avail," I explained.

"I tried calm discussion, illustrating the consequences to the company, even rewarding desired behavior in hopes that doing so would engender more. But still, we're back at square one! Same old problem!

"So," I continued, catching my breath and lassoing my passion, "today I decided enough was enough and went in with both guns blazing."

"And got the result you wanted?" she asked.

"I'm not sure yet."

"Ahh, see baby, I don't think it'll work."

A few days later she told me that she had talked to her brother about our discussion.

"I can't believe it," she began. "He says you were right."

"Really?" I said.

I have to admit to being mildly surprised. Our discussion had left me doubting my decision. In fact, in the meantime, I had told my coworker that I regretted my behavior and would try in the future not to let my frustration get the better of me. His reaction?

"Don't worry about it. I get frustrated sometimes, too."

In fact, his frustration boiled over that same afternoon, much as mine had just days before. This time, he was the one sounding like a lunatic - waving his arms around like some bad imitation of Robot from "Lost In Space" - as he berated another associate for pretty much the same problem I had grown tired of.

"Yeah," my girlfriend explained, "my brother said that guys just handle things differently than women do."

Now, I realize I am on shaky ground here in terms of gender relations, but my girlfriend's brother is right. Men are quicker to anger — and generally quicker to let go of angry encounters and move on - than women.

I have often decried in this column what I call "Dilbert speak," that annoying vernacular that has so captivated, and subjugated, the modern workplace, making it a warm bath of feel-good neutrality in which little gets done and "everyone's a customer."

"We should treat everyone with the same respect we show customers, because everyone is a customer," this warped logic goes.

Coworkers are "internal customers," while the ones who actually buy things from us are "external customers." Vendors are "business partners" or (gak) "stakeholders."


Call me old school and unenlightened, but "business partners" are the people who actually own the business, who have put their money - often in the form of their home mortgages - on the line, convinced that this business will not just survive but prosper.

Vendors, on the other hand, are the organizations those owners are depending on to get them the material they need, at the price they have agreed to, in a condition that is the best it can possibly be, and on time. Every time. If they do not do all this, they should expect to hear about it. And if they do not like hearing about it in emphatic terms, maybe they should make their deliveries on time a little more often - or at least call ahead when they know something will show up late.

"Internal customers?" They are the home team. Your coworkers. The ones who take the materials and make the things happen that need to happen, in the order in which they must happen, to produce the goods your actual customers purchase. (You do remember actual customers, right? The people who give you money for the things you make?)

Sure, I recognize the good intentions of these campaigns to change the workplace. The idea is to make the workplace a happier, healthier, lower-stress environment, and I applaud those good intentions. But we all know what the road to Hell is paved with.

The simple fact is that it is called "work" for a reason. If it were not without its difficulties, it would be called "play."

Nobody would be happier than me if it were possible to banish the difficulties inherent in work and thereby allow everybody to sail through each day as if it were a glass-like body of water, nary a ripple in sight. But that is not reality. The reality is that work is hard. Throw a few strong-willed men into the mix, and you have a recipe for contentiousness.

In general, women are very good at spotting potential problems a mile away, determining how to avert them and putting a plan into place which makes it happen, all the while keeping emotions out of it.

Guys? Well, we tend not to be that way.

We wait until problems show up, then try to deal with the fallout.

We try to do it calmly at first. But when the problem does not go away and in fact worsens, we become exasperated. What we are really doing is kicking ourselves for not seeing this one coming. And we lose our cool. Then, and only then, are we ready to sit down and do what we should have done a long time ago: Address the root causes of the problem, so it will not be a problem again.

You know guys, maybe the gals could teach us a thing or two.

Anthony Noel is a management consultant and has written this column since 1994. Send him e-mail at


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