Where are the "gentle" men?

A cry for the “gentle” man. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to show up as a gentleman in the 21st century.  I’ve recently had the pleasure of meeting some true “gentle” men at training sessions I’ve attended.  And it’s been such a pleasure to see how they show up.  The women in the room notice the difference between man and “gentle” man. The contrast is particularly stark.

I’ve been on a long road of awakening that started with a boys-only home where my mom would ask us if we needed to amputate if we had a bruise.  Don’t get me wrong – she was loving, but it was a male-dominated household.  You know – the kind where the default toilet seat position was up.  After college, I was in a combat arms unit in the US Army where there were no women – at all.  Weeks would go by in the field where we never saw a single woman – at all. 

My life changed when I had my first daughter.  Then I had another.  And another.  As I’ve grown into my role as a dad of daughters, I’ve learned how much I had to learn.  It has been a challenge. And it’s been a lot of fun!  I get all of the dancing, singing, playing dress-up AND the roughhousing, sports and fart humor (sorry for when you read this, girls!) all rolled up into three amazing packages.

I’ve also transitioned more towards a mostly female workforce (female dominated had too much heat).  I once worked for a company that was 80% women with a female CEO and now work in HR where women outnumber men around 4 or 5 to 1.  The distance I’ve traveled has been significant.  But I didn’t realize how far we men still have to come.  A few women have called me “with it” or “woke” and I was confused.  I thought all guys had figured this stuff out.  According to many women I talk to, this is not true.  And I have certainly not learned enough. But I am actively learning. When women step into power, it’s stunning. It’s a completely different energy the world needs to experience. I think that women (in general) typically have stronger listening skills and empathy, so I’m surprised that men keep getting promoted and elected.  On several occasions, I’ve questioned how any of us (men) are still in positions of power.  Looking back, these are statements that do not come from most men.

So fellow “gentle” men, let’s do some education for the men that are waking up to our time.  Here’s the work I think needs to be done:

  1. Awareness.

    Things are different now.  You can call it women’s lib or metoo or whatever you want, but we need to wake up to the fact that women face different challenges and have a completely different perspective.  I remember seeing a Facebook message about what a woman thinks about when running at night versus what a man thinks about.  For the woman, there were about 50 things, for a man it was basically “where are my shoes?”  There’s the common story about the doctor to teach unconscious bias.   We carry underlying attitudes about what a woman can do (or can’t do) that impact people every day.  And there are simple things that my daughters bring up – like why is there NCAA Basketball and NCAA Women’s Basketball?  And why is there the NBA and then the WNBA?  Why not MNBA?  And the answer is not because dunking makes it more interesting, guys. It’s a fair point.  As men, we need to increase our awareness of what’s going on around us. 

  2. Presence

    With this awareness, it’s up to us not to show up like a bull in a china shop. As we grow in awareness, we’ll need to increase our general level of emotional intelligence (EQ). Stronger EQ skills can dramatically enhance how we show up at home, at work and in all relationships. The building blocks of EQ (as outlined by Daniel Goleman and others) include self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship management and empathy. It starts with the ability to “know thyself” which opens up the ability to self-manage. Then we can start picking up on the social cues where we see things from other people’s points of view. From there, we can choose how we want to behave (vs. react).

  3. Listening

    Listening deserves special mention.  And I fully confess I still suck at this sometimes.  But nothing is more important than great listening to be a “gentle” man.  To feel fully heard is the greatest gift we can give someone.  There are two parts to this skill.  First is tactical – we need to be fully present and actively listen without interruption.  We need to stay engaged, rephrase* to confirm or clarify, ask follow up questions and respond if appropriate.  These are the basics – and there is a deep rabbit hole of learning here.  Second is strategy – we need to listen to understand first and access genuine curiosity for someone else’s story.  It’s like we’re waiting for the pot of gold at the end of someone else’s story.  Listen beyond the words.  Listen at all three levels.  Listen to really see the other person. 

  4. Action

    Now, what do we do about this, “gentle” men?  I’m still figuring this out, so I’ll share a few things that I know for sure. 

    1. Don’t be gross – the days of locker room talk are over.  Nobody is grabbing anybody by anything anymore.  No scantily clad posters.  No angry porn.  Just don’t.

    2. Feel emotion – we don’t have to be robots.  We can cry.  We can get beyond mad, sad, glad.  There is a whole wheel of emotions that have nuances.  It’s OK to feel, identify and share the emotions.  It’s not soft. It’s evolved. 

    3. Work smarter – think about who we’re hiring. Think about the candidate pool.  Be aware of team diversity – and this goes beyond male-female dynamics.  Diverse teams are smarter – make sure it’s not a boy’s club.   

    4. Stay aware – bring the awareness to our day to day lives.  If we see someone crying, we can get a tissue and bring it to them.  This is if it’s a man or a woman (what did you assume?).  Teach our daughters and our sons to be both strong and empathetic.  If we’re walking a date to the car and it’s in a parking garage, realize this might be terrifying.  Ask for consent for everything.  And bring your ability to see things from another person’s point of view with you everywhere – even the bedroom.  No more jackhammers, lads…(unless you meeting a particular request).

I’m feeling energy around this topic – both from “gentle” men who are awake and LOTS of women.  There’s more work to be done.  We’re thinking about a “Gentle-Man Collective” – anyone care to join?

*Mainsplaining is a thing.  Women have been dealing with this for a long time.  I’m still trying to find someone who will give me an acceptable definition of womansplaining before I’ll allow rampant use of mansplaining, but it is a thing. 

- Mike Sweeney, www.sabercoaching.com 

If you found this post valuable, please share it far and wide so others can benefit. If you are starting to wake up or want to talk about what it means to be a “gentle” man at home, at work or in relationships, shoot me a note @ mikesweeney@sabercoaching.com. I didn’t mention some of the benefits…