Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Alpha Mail: female communication

This is from a woman whose opinion is well worth taking seriously. Just trust me on this one:
Men vs. Women 101: Handling Criticism. Most non-Gamma men take constructive criticism well. My husband, for instance, will send something to a friend or colleague for assessment, and when his work gets eviscerated, he's very congenial about it and appreciates that this person took the time to identify errors and save him from embarrassment. To him, it's a kindness.

Women, on the other hand, respond to criticism very differently. Here's an example. I'm in an ongoing argument with a colleague about a scientific theory. It's an argument he initiated, but it's objectively helpful, because I'm attempting to write up a detailed treatment, and I want it to be free of errors. In our latest exchange he sent me a long-winded critique of my math wherein he concluded that I've made some errors that completely undermine the whole proposition. He's a nice, sympathetic man who just wants to understand how it all works, but when I read this criticism, I got extremely irritated. For the first moment after I skimmed his critique, I hated his guts, even though, if I truly made those errors, he's just saved me a lot of public embarrassment. (Turns out he's the one who made a fundamental error in his critique, but it was still helpful -- my explanation was far too telegraphic, which is what led to the misunderstanding.)

The lesson here? A woman will always, always, always take even benign, helpful criticism personally. Just remember that when you're dealing with women, either in your family or at work. And the more helpful you try to be, the worse you'll make it. What really made me hate his guts with a burning intensity wasn't that he pointed out what he thought were errors, but that he spent 37 pages of equations and graphs expounding on it. If he'd just said, "You goofed on the integral in equation 3" and left it to me to ask follow-up questions, I would've just been mildly irritated. But all those pages and pages were like he was saying, "THIS is how much of an idiot you are."

So, here's my advice to you. If you are going to offer a woman criticism, keep it as terse as possible. Make her ask follow-up questions if she wants to know more. Why? Because, even when you are dealing with an ostensibly rational woman, she is undoubtedly either seething with irritation or completely devastated over something you probably didn't intend at all. I bet as this guy was writing up all 37 of those pages, he was thinking, "Boy, am I being helpful with all this detail. She'll really appreciate how much time I'm taking to carefully explain everything..." Alas, that we women aren't so gracious as to default to that explanation, but that's just female nature. Save all that extra effort for the men in your lives who will understand it and appreciate it.


Magson said...

My ex-wife was like that for sure. Compliments were neutral, neutral statements were "hurtful" and God forbid I actually offer a criticism -- I was then the anti-Christ hisownself.

Current wife is a little better, though not much. Oddly enough the female therapist is quite helpful. Things I've been saying for years that my wife ignores, then repeated back to her verbatim by the another woman and "Oh really? Maybe I should actually pay attention to this. . . "

SQT said...

As I woman I can totally vouch for the truthfulness of this. It took me 46 years to realize that I shouldn't take criticism personally. The only way I have found to deal my own thin skin is to try to turn mistakes into a self-deprecating joke. I find that learning to laugh at myself takes a lot of the sting away.

Anchorman said...

So, a woman badgering a guy is trying to hurt the man as much as she is hurt by prolonged, detailed pestering.

Agree and amplify.

And, of course, never apologize because she's not trying to be helpful. She's trying to drive you as nuts as she is about criticism. It's why it doesn't stop after the apology.

Trust said...

Not too many things make a woman madder than telling her she's wrong when she's right. One of them is telling her she's wrong when she's wrong.

Timmy3 said...

"If you are going to offer a woman criticism, keep it as terse as possible"

Hmmm, no. Isn't it true that women give bad advice? Men should only take advice from other men experienced with women folk.

Objectively, who does like criticism? I might ask to confirm that I made the right decisions, not that I was wrong in multi-page thesis. Women are busy bodies. I really don't have time to help her finish her project and get blamed for it going wrong. You help, you're responsible.

Want terse comments? I can roll my eyes and say I'm busy.

One Fat Oz Guy said...

The thing I hate most is the blame game: "he checked my report, so if there are any mistakes in it now, it's all on him!"

Rex Little said...

I think this is an example of the general principle that if something can be understood in more than one way, a woman will assume whichever meaning upsets her most.

modsquad said...

@ Timmy, 7:56 PM

"Hmmm, no. Isn't it true that women give bad advice? "

Women give bad dating advice. Their counsel is never for the benefit of the man asking, everything proffered is to ensure the Feminine Imperative remains concealed.

That said, if the guy put together 37 pages of graphs/equations to prove her wrong, he's either trying to get her in bed or angry because she's already shot him down. I would have done no more than what she advises, offered a quick "You goofed on the integral in equation 3."

Revelation Means Hope said...

I have learned to be most cagey in my professional career around women.
I will only offer advice to women indirectly (by using them as a "sounding board" for another woman on a topic that they will resonate with themselves).

There is just no scenario out there where you will benefit from advising and helping a woman, unless you are her alpha boss and the hierarchy explicitly supports that role for you, combined with your own alpha behavior. And even then, you don't get NEARLY as much benefit as you do from advising a man.

Anonymous said...

Remind us again why it's so terribly important to get more women into STEM careers?

There are real world consequences to getting this stuff wrong. Latest atrocity is the woman who's now editing Science, the number 2 journal after Nature, her refusal to publish criticism of the narrative, and her impending elevation to president of the National Academy of Sciences.

APL said...

Magson: "Oddly enough the female therapist is quite helpful."

I had a very similar experience. My wife nagged and nagged that we go and see a marriage councillor. I went along under protest, at the time I was in a job that required flying all over Europe.

I happend to mention that my wife would never drop everything and meet me in France, Italy, Spain ( an utterly unreasonable request ) but the female therapist swallowed it 'hook line and sinker' and gave my wife the immortal line: " You really should stop frustrating his plans."

Twenty years later, that line is often regurgitated in the middle of an argument with much mirth.

Anonymous said...

I think it has been said in this blog to not spend too many words on a woman, with which, as a female, I heartily concur (though I objected for many years).

Men who expound too much are perceived as boorish dolts or girlish. The ability to be concise is a leadership quality.

David said...


I would give anything to have seen the look on your wife's face when she said that.


I'm going to hazard a guess and say it was Stickwick that wrote this advice, in which she shot him down since she's married. But the scientist who wrote 37 pages probably didn't do it for those reasons; he may just be a nice guy that's got a mild case of autism going on and thought writing a thesis would be helpful.

Timmy3 said...

@modsquad "I would have done no more than what she advises, offered a quick "You goofed on the integral in equation 3."

I wonder what's the point of even doing this. You made it clear that women ask for things for their own benefit. That's largely true. So you will help at the risk of your loss. They win, you lose. That was my experience when I had women as my study mates or co-workers. They expect you to do their work. They never help you unless they find you attractive.

No response. Be neutral. They can't find someone to blame if you're not involved.

@David, Okay, not sure it adds to the discussion.

Double E said...

Want terse comments? I can roll my eyes and say I'm busy.

wait, so you're the woman?

Rational Thinker said...

I don't ever agree to help women with anything that involves critiquing her work. It's never a rewarding way to spend my time.

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