I am a man, so I am completely qualified to say that men are oblivious. This is first demonstrated at a young age. Men, think back to when you were playing in the school yard and girls were chasing you. You had no clue the girl or girls chasing you liked you. I just witnessed this with my 10-year-old son. It was clear his classmate liked him and he was clueless. For men who have not embraced this quality, please do. That’s all I have to say about men. You all know what I am talking about.
On the other hand, women have a sixth sense. I am not a woman nor do I play one on TV. I do, however, have enough interactions with women that give me the ability to make this declaration. Many, if not all, women have an uncanny ability to read between the lines. Someone says something and they know the true meaning of the comments. Women can read an email and pick up on the subtle meaning of the sentences. Just as men are oblivious and can’t do anything about it, women too cannot control this trait. Someone says something, and they have this mental database of everything ever said by and about this person and form a hunch. The good thing is women are so in tune with your stakeholders and pick up on the smallest verbal inflections and non-verbal cues. (You may not have to read my last blog post.) The bad thing is that there are no clear facts to support their hunch. So sometimes a hunch or assumption is valid; sometimes it is wrong.
This is not to say men don’t pick up on cues or don’t have hunches and make assumptions. We are just genetically disposed to assume it has nothing to do with us. A few weeks ago I said something to a female friend and went on my merry way. The weekend came and went. On Wednesday of the following week we were having a conversation, and she apologized for being mad at me. Mad at me?! I could tell she was not happy, maybe even mad… just not mad at ME. I had no clue: oblivious. It turns out her reading between the lines was slightly off, and she made an assumption and ran with it. In this case her running was away from me because she was pissed.
In your communication with stakeholders, you need both of these traits. Sometimes you need to read between the lines and make assumptions. Other times you need the comfort of being oblivious and ask questions that many don’t ask because they assume they know the answer or assume they should know the answer and don’t want to look dumb.
Men, you need to focus on the subtle cues made by your stakeholders. You need to see when a stakeholder is frustrated, concerned, or not engaged with the project as needed. You then have to validate your assumption and actually consider how it is related to you or your team.
Women, keep it up and form those hunches. Just make sure you validate them and don’t assume a hunch is always accurate. Men have it a little easier—everyone knows we are oblivious. So, when a man asks, “Help me understand something” or “I’m not sure we are all on the same page” no one is surprised.
The situation where the benefit of obliviousness and a sixth sense comes in is when there is an “elephant in the room”. The elephant in the room is a problem that everyone knows is there but no one wants to acknowledge. As a leader on your team you need to expose and address the elephant. To even see there is an elephant in the room, you have to be in tune with your team or situation. But it’s not enough to stop there and assume that someone higher up the food chain will bring it up if it needs to be addressed. I don’t care where you are on the corporate food chain, you are a leader. It is your job to expose the elephant so it will be acknowledged and addressed. Here’s the thing, if you do nothing with the elephant you are viewed in one of two ways: You are really oblivious and don’t even know the elephant is there—not good. Or, you are viewed as too cowardly to address the situation—again, not good.
Be the best you can be by having the right level of obliviousness and a sixth sense.
All the best,
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