The Male Factor: The Unwritten Rules, Misperceptions, and Secret Beliefs of Men in the Workplace

The Male Factor: The Unwritten Rules, Misperceptions, and Secret Beliefs of Men in the Workplace

by Shaunti Feldhahn

ISBN: 9780385528115

Publisher Crown Business

Published in Business & Investing/Business Culture

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Book Description

Based on a nationwide survey and confidential interviews with more than three thousand men, best-selling author of For Women Only Shaunti Feldhahn has written a startling and unprecedented exploration of how men in the workplace tend to think, which even the most astute women might otherwise miss.

In The Male Factor, Feldhahn investigates and quantifies the private thoughts that men almost never publicly reveal or admit to, but that every woman will want to know. Never before has an author gotten inside the hearts and minds of men in the workplace -f rom CEOs to managers, from lawyers to factory workers - to get a comprehensive and confidential picture of what men commonly think about their female colleagues, how they view flex time and equal compensation, what their expected "rules" of the workplace are, what managing emotion means, and how that lowcut top is perceived.

Because the men in the surveys and interviews were guaranteed anonymity, they talk in a candid and uncensored way about their daily interactions with women bosses, employees, and colleagues, as well as what they see as the most common forces of friction and misunderstanding between men and women at work.

Among the subjects The Male Factor tackles are:

How men, with rare exception, view almost any emotional display as a sign that the person can no longer think clearly - as well as what they perceive to be "emotion" in the first place (it's not just crying) Why certain trendy clothes that women wear may create a career-sabotaging land mine in terms of how male colleagues perceive them The unintentional signals that can change a man's perception of a woman from "assertive and competent" to "difficult."

Women will likely be surprised, even shocked, by these revelations. Some may find them challenging. Yet what they will gain is an invaluable understanding of how their male bosses, colleagues, subordinates, and...


Sample Chapter

A New Skill Set

“Are you saying women don’t already know that?”

The charismatic African-American businessman sitting next to me in first class looked at me in disbelief. I was flying home from speaking at a women’s conference, and we were only a few minutes into the usual “What do you do?” airplane conversation. Then I shared something that apparently stunned him.

I had explained that I was a financial analyst by training, had worked on Wall Street, and was now, unexpectedly, an author and speaker about relationships.

His inevitable question: “What’s your main topic?”

“Men.” I grinned at his wry expression. “I spent a few years interviewing and surveying a few thousand men. My last book, For Women Only, identifies ways that men tend to think and feel privately, that women tend not to know.”

He folded his arms across his chest, and it was his turn to chuckle. “OK,” he said, “hit me with one.”

So I shared one of my findings about men—one that I will share with you in the following pages—and that is when the amusement turned to disbelief.

When I confirmed that even the most astute women may not know that particular truth about men, I could see that suddenly, his thoughts were off in a universe of their own.

“That explains something!” he finally said. “You see, I’m a corporate trainer and consultant. Fortune 100 corporations bring me in to help with leadership and strategy at the highest levels of the organization. And all too often, I see skilled and talented women sabotage their careers because they treat the men they work with in a way that no man would treat another man.”

He looked at me with awakening interest. “But from what you’re telling me, these women probably don’t even realize that that is what they are doing.”

It was my turn to be interested, and my notebook and pen were already out. “Can you give me an example?”

“I’ll give you an example of something that just happened a few hours ago.” For the next few minutes, he told me his story (which I’ll relay in a later chapter), and concluded, “I was so puzzled why this female executive would shoot herself in the foot like that! But perhaps she simply didn’t understand how her actions would be perceived by her colleagues—colleagues who were mostly men.”


The range of what we think and do is limited by what we fail to notice. And, because we fail to notice that we fail to notice, there is little we can do to change until we notice how our failing to notice shapes our thoughts and deeds. —R. D. LAING

In recent decades, organizations across America have developed a bucket of programs to help advance or retain women. Many approaches have been quite effective; others, better in theory than in practice. We’ve seen a surge in management attention to work/life balance issues—particularly to retain working moms—and a corresponding surge in flextime, telecommuting, and other options. Businesses and industry groups are increasingly fostering female networks and mentoring relationships as an alternative to playing golf with the guys, and are emphasizing professional development for rising women. Organizations large and small have studied and trained their people on avoiding sexual harassment, and on the unique needs of female workers, customers, and stakeholders. Gender-equity task forces have proliferated.

But as valuable as those efforts are, I’ve come to realize that they leave a significant hole. We can be skilled, talented, highly educated, mentored, and networked—and yet trade all of that away by unintentionally undermining ourselves in our interactions with male colleagues. As my new friend on the airplane put it, we can still sabotage ourselves and efforts we care about simply because we do not understand the “male factor”: some relevant truths about how the male half of the population thinks—and thus how they may be perceiving (or misperceiving) our words and actions.

Even without that potential trap, we may be missing some important insight, effectiveness, and tactical advantage through a simple gap in information—a gap exacerbated by the fact that (as you will see) men often have clear internal expectations but don’t feel able to openly share what they are privately thinking. So the end result is the same: A woman can all too easily be missing valuable information that might be helpful or important for her—information that she would presumably want to know in today’s workplace. One senior executive put it this way:

Women in business have seen some tremendous opportunities open up, but have also seen that it is still a man’s world in many ways. What I mean, though, is different than you may think. What I mean is that, historically, for better or for worse, men pretty much created what we mean by “the business world” today. And since men still tend to hold most of the top-level positions, their subconscious ideas about how things should work are still framing the debate.

It would be extremely helpful for women to have insights into what it’s like to be a man in that business world. When men say things like, “It’s not personal; it’s business,” it would be helpful for women to understand what “it’s business” actually means in the minds of the men whose ideas originally defined that business world.

Based on everything I have heard from men about how they think and feel—and how surprising some of those revelations have been to millions of women who have heard me discuss them—I would argue that understanding men in the ways that might impact us is a career-critical skill set that women can develop, like any other. I would also argue that women of faith are called to do more than copy cultural assumptions. We’re called to understand and live by the truth of how God created men—to be, as Romans says, transformed by the renewing of our minds.

Over the years, I’ve heard from hundreds of women readers who were validated that they had already recognized and incorporated some of these truths into their workplace approach—and from many others who wished they had learned these often-hidden truths earlier or better.

All of us want to be effective and be perceived as “getting it” instead of triggering the unspoken question, Why would she do that? While the need for understanding might be most obvious among younger women who are still learning their way in the marketplace, a better understanding of men has certainly helped senior female professionals, as well. One senior vice president found her work relationships with men improving so much after she read my original book that she personally bought one hundred copies, one for every woman in her department.

Whatever your line of work or ministry, you probably have significant interaction with male superiors, coworkers, subordinates, customers, or volunteers. That makes it critical for you to better understand how and what they think—especially in areas that affect you but that they would never tell you. Not because their way is “right,” or because you should necessarily adapt to their expectations, but because their perceptions exist and could be affecting you whether or not you know what they are. Far better to have full information, so you can make informed decisions that are right for you.

MEN 101 You may have seen the humorous graphic comparing women and men to two different old-fashioned control panels. The one labeled “Woman” has dozens of random buttons, gauges, and circuit breakers. The one labeled “Man” has an on-off switch.

Pop culture suggests women are complex, while men are straightforward. And in some ways, that seems true. But in other ways, I’ve found that assumption can be misleading—and dangerously so. There is more complexity and depth in men’s thinking than many women—and even many men—realize.

How I Woke Up to What I Didn’t Know In 2001, I stumbled across some important facts about what men are often privately thinking and feeling, that women often never know. I had recently moved with my husband from New York City to Atlanta, and was working as a financial and organizational analyst. In my spare time I was also writing fiction. One of my main characters in my second novel was a man, a good, decent husband and father and successful businessman. And I realized that although I could put on paper what my character was doing in my various scenes, I had no idea how to write what a man would be thinking. So I began asking male friends for help. I would describe a given scene, and then ask, “What would you be thinking in this situation?”

And I often found myself shocked. Over and over again, the men described foundational, private thoughts that I would never have guessed at. They described deep, daily ways of thinking and feeling that were a complete surprise to me—even after eight years of marriage. I kept thinking to myself, “Why have I not heard this before?!”

I started doing more and more of these interviews, hitting up everyone from my male colleagues to the guys behind the counter at Starbucks. And it soon became clear that what I was learning was too important to stop with creating a character in a novel. So once the novel was finished I began a more systematic approach to investigating the most important things that women just tend not to “get” about men. Over the course of several years, I interviewed and surveyed more than 1,500 men, conducting two professional, nationally representative surveys.

Very early on, I realized that what I was hearing related to either a man’s personal life or his work life. The men would sometimes describe how they felt or thought in a given home-life scenario, and sometimes describe their private impressions at the office. Both were equally eye-opening to me. But I couldn’t tackle both in the same book. So I started with the personal relationships, and wrote For Women Only: What You Need to Know About the Inner Lives of Men, which was published in 2004. Shortly thereafter, my husband, Jeff, and I teamed up to write the companion book, For Men Only: A Straightforward Guide to the Inner Lives of Women. The books instantly became bestsellers; in just four years they sold more than 1.5 million copies and have been translated into fifteen languages.

I became extremely busy with traveling and speaking, often at large women’s conferences, churches, government workshops, or marriage seminars. And over the next few years, I continued the process of investigating the key surprises in our personal relationships, researching and publishing books for teenagers about how the opposite sex thinks, as well as a book for parents to help them understand how their teenager thinks (a scary prospect, I know!).

But as each year went by, I continued and expanded my research of men, with an eye toward a book that would help women understand men in the workplace, and, ultimately, help women advance.

In 2007, I turned my full attention to understanding men in the workplace. How do men privately think and feel about things at work that women don’t already know? What do men privately say when they are promised anonymity and can be completely honest and candid, that we would never otherwise hear? What are the truths that seem common to most men, regardless of personality, industry, age, race, religious belief, or any other differing factor—the private truths that we women often misunderstand, or miss completely, simply because we may be wired differently?

What do men privately say when
they are promised anonymity and can be
completely honest and candid, that
we would never otherwise hear?

Most important, what are the areas in which most men instinctively tend to act and think the same way, tend to subconsciously expect others to do the same, and view not doing so as anything from a confusing aberration to outright weakness? In other words, which of these inner truths about men might unwittingly trip women up without our ever realizing it—and which might help us to be even more effective once we understand them?

In pursuing these questions I found, as I had with the research on For Women Only, that my analytical training and Wall Street experience provided an important—if a bit unusual—foundation for uncovering, analyzing, and communicating hidden truths about how people think.

I have a master’s degree in public policy with a concentration in business from Harvard University; my core classes in quantitative and qualitative analysis were taken at the Harvard Kennedy School, and my electives at Harvard Business School. After graduation, I became a financial analyst at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, primarily investigating and analyzing what was going on underneath the surface of the Japanese financial meltdown, and sharing those findings at the highest levels of the Federal Reserve System.

I worked there for only three intense years, but it laid the foundation for an entirely new type of analysis of what was going on underneath the surface in relationships. I am forever grateful to my former colleagues and supervisors for throwing me in at the deep end and setting their expectations high.


Reason is the slow and torturous method by which those who do not know the truth discover it. —BLAISE PASCAL

During the years of investigating how men privately think in the workplace, I interviewed every businessman I could, distilled the truths that I felt would be the most helpful to women readers, and then worked with professional survey designers to develop and conduct a nationally representative survey to test if what I was hearing was common to most men. That sounds simple, but it required an intense effort involving me, seven of my staff researchers and assistants, several corporate consultants, and a team of survey experts from two different companies over the course of eight years. In the end, well over 1,500 men provided input specifically for this book, in addition to the 1,500 men who had contributed their insights to my previous research.

Those numbers don’t just include “official” surveys and interviews. I kept a notebook, pen, and digital recorder permanently by my side so I could capture informal interviews in the most unlikely places. I travel a lot, and on every flight, if I was sitting next to a man who was willing to talk (most were), I would ask him questions. At coffee shops, restaurants, on the subway, at church, and in social gatherings, I looked for opportunities to conduct impromptu interviews with working men from all walks of life. It continues to surprise me what a man will divulge when you don’t know his name or where he works, and he’s on a boring daily commute.

It is also amazing what a man will tell you when you do know his name and where he works—but he has been guaranteed anonymity. I guaranteed each man in writing that all quotes appearing in the book would be completely anonymous, and that they would never be able to be tied to a particular individual or organization. To ensure that anonymity, I promised to judiciously alter identifying details.

As a result, I got virtual—and often physical—access to the inner offices of dozens of household-name companies and organizations in every corner of the country (and a few beyond our borders). I interviewed hundreds of men—from entrepreneurs with a start-up staff of ten people, to businessmen who started some of our most recognized retailers. I heard surprising insights from middle-level managers at small nonprofits to C-level executives of the largest companies in the world. I sat down for interviews in cluttered, disorganized offices in remote suburbs, and in the most luxurious penthouse-suite offices I’ve ever seen. And I did several dozen conference calls with executives who were in cities beyond my immediate travel plans, but whom I couldn’t afford to miss.

From Manhattan to Orlando, Omaha to Austin, Minneapolis to Los Angeles to Seattle, and of course in my current hometown of Atlanta, I was amazed and grateful for the breadth of input I was able to receive.

My main regret is that in the limited space of this book I am only able to pass along a fraction of what I have gathered. I can’t, for confidentiality reasons, post full transcripts of these conversations. But if you go to, the website for this book, I will over time post as much helpful information as I can, scrubbed of all identifying information.

About a dozen senior-level leaders and businessmen proved to be particularly helpful and insightful and became more in-depth advisors during the process, agreeing to answer follow-up questions or sitting for multiple interviews. Some of these men are quoted multiple times (although, like all others, they are identified by a fictitious first name).

You also will read a number of examples and stories relayed by a number of female professionals in various workplace environments who proved invaluable during this process. Some of these women signed confidentiality statements and spent hours reading through transcripts and draft chapters, setting up interviews with men, helping me develop and test the survey, and thinking through the application of what I was learning to their own experiences.


Excerpted from "The Male Factor: The Unwritten Rules, Misperceptions, and Secret Beliefs of Men in the Workplace" by Shaunti Feldhahn. Copyright © 0 by Shaunti Feldhahn. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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