For anyone that has ever been married, dated, been in a relationship or even had any interaction with the opposite sex in a social setting is probably shaking their head at me right now thinking that I’m being pretty lazy for a Monday blog by posting the obvious.
Not so fast.
In a social setting we all have stories of miscommunication with the opposite sex. Just this weekend my best friend and I had a discussion about three little words: “really nice restaurant”. For a woman that means date, for a man it means a meal with non-disposable napkins.
But what about a business setting? A really nice restaurant doesn’t mean date – it means entertaining clients, visiting VIPs or possibly talk of a promotion.
In the business world it is a whole different setting; yet underneath it all we are still men and women, we still think differently, we respond differently and our body language translates differently. And we still end up confused. That is why we need to ask clarifying questions.
“Soon”, “Fine” and “When you have a minute” all mean different things to men and women in the work place. They are steeped in ambiguity and this leads to confusion or misrepresentation. In a social world you may be in big trouble if the apple of your eye replies “fine”; but in the business world it could mean that your customers are very happy, just not ones to spew compliments.
If a hiring manager tells you they are looking to hire “soon” – what does that mean? If your customers tell you give them a call “when you have a minute” what does that mean? Ambiguity in business is a bad thing. It misguides people and often leaves so much doubt that we tend to go down the negative path. Our actions are then led by these negative thoughts.
Walking out of an interview with a timeframe of “soon” tells you nothing. You can end up torturing yourself for days waiting for a call thinking that “soon” could be this week when in reality they mean this quarter.
You have to ask.
And here is where it can get tricky because men and women think differently. I am going to go with some generalizations with men and women so if you are someone who does not fit the category do not be offended – just celebrate that you are different. But cut the rest of the world a break, we all don’t think like you do.
Generally speaking, when asking a man a question you need to be direct and to the point while maintaining professionalism without questioning him or his authority without pointing that out. There is a little bit of an alpha thing going on there so you need to respect the unwritten “ranking” that is in place. Use shorter sentences. Men tend to tune out more quickly than women.
Generally speaking, when asking a woman a question you need to clarify a bit more and can be more explanatory. It helps zero down the targeted question, the reference as to why you are asking and how they can best answer it to serve your needs.
Once you get an answer, your clarifying questions can be different too. For a man, if it is still a bit ambiguous then a more direct clarifying question would be in order. For a woman a pleasant agreeing statement would be in order.
So how do you know how to ask? Take your cue from the interviewer or customer. How have they been responding to prior questions? Do they respond well to direct questions or do you need to lead them a bit? Pay attention to what gives you the most information.
Also pay attention to body language. If they have closed up the portfolio, pushed back the chair and cleared their throat – they are pretty much done at that moment. Engaging in further conversation could irritate them. A short, direct clarifying question could wrap it up quickly and succinctly.
Remember this is business and you are on their turf. Respect that. Establishing a tone even in the opening of shaking hands is important. For men, we know you are all he-man but do not try to prove that to the interviewer. Do not try to over-power your male interviewer’s handshake. Meet it, don’t exceed it. If you try to give a bit more it is an unconscious signal to them that you are trying to take dominance. This is their turf.
Women when shaking hands don’t wimp out. The days of offering the back of your hand for a light kiss in a social setting are long, long gone. Firm it up, meet the grip and release at once, don’t let it linger. Eww. Don’t be afraid to show strength in your grip.
I learned to shake hands from my dad. I have tiny little hands but a firm grip. Most men are surprised by this but also relieved, they do not feel like they are about to break glass when shaking my hand. It is business, I am a professional, I am there to make a statement and it isn’t that my nails are wet.
Men don’t be afraid to shake a woman’s hand. Don’t do the death grip, but yet don’t coddle it gently. First – it could come across as creepy. Second, it could also undermine you. If you are interviewing with a woman and she has a firm grip and she meets a wimpy shake it sends an unconscious signal of weakness.
If their handshake is a quick pump and release odds are that they are going to respond better to short, direct questions and answers. If they have a longer and more inviting handshake then they will probably respond better to more conversational or longer responses.
But no matter what their style be sure to ask the questions. You will never know unless you ask. You need to know in order to gauge your next action steps and ensure they are appropriate.
It may take an extra minute or two but those clarifying questions are lifesavers. Evaluate the entire conversation and ask appropriately based upon the cues they have given you, whether they know it or not.
Lisa K. McDonald, CPRW
Certified Professional Resume Writer
Career Polish, Inc.