Sunday, July 26, 2009

Men Love to Hear Themselves Talk

Here's a great interview: In the NY Times Corner Office column today, Carol Smith, Senior VP at Elle Group, gives some provocative remarks about the differences in style between men and women managers. It's a quick but fun read for anyone in management. In explaining why she thinks women bosses are better managers, she opines that women "tend to be better managers, better advisers, mentors, rational thinkers. Men love to hear themselves talk." Amen to that.

I also wholeheartedly agree with her comments about interviewing a prospective hire over a meal. She notes that you can usually learn more about a person over a meal than in any other interview format. How the person orders, what they order, how they treat the wait staff, conversational skills, and personality: it all comes through in an authentic way over a meal. Conversely, in my view, the most useless way to get to know an interviewee is in a group interview or, worse yet, a "round robin" drop in where various parties drop in and out of a conference room. I suppose that's useful if a major job requirement is stamina. But otherwise, I don't find it very productive.

In any event, the one bit of her advice that I disagree with is the point about not sitting at the head of the table. Her rationale for choosing a seat in the middle of the table is to show a willingness to be part of the process and part of the decision, and that does seem sensible. However, if the group is large, then it's nearly impossible to keep track of body language and engagement when half of the participants are out of the line of site. I like to be able to watch everyone, to follow the body language so that I can really read the interpersonal dynamics. That's particularly important in contentious or difficult meetings. For some guidance on interpreting body language, take a look at Born to Be Good, The Science of a Meaningful Life, by Dacher Keltner, a great book I reviewed some time ago at Evolution.

Cynthia

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