Listen Up Gentlemen!

Spent Saturday and all day today at a Literacy Exchange at our school. We are working with Singapore American School and The Jakarta Intercultural School to compare our experiences with the Teacher’s College Reading and Writing Program.

On a side note- Thanks to Anne Marie‚Äč Chow and Scott Riley for a facilitating a seamless learning experience.

But what I found most fascinating, and the big idea behind this post was- who spoke the most, when and how often. The majority of the participants were women. I would say about 90%. I noticed because there were very few men in the room and it felt a bit strange.

However, despite the lack of numbers the men seemed to always speak first, whether it was at small tables or in whole class sessions when the facilitators were eliciting information.

After I realized that I too was always one of the first people to speak, I tried a little experiment- I would resist the urge to speak first. I am not sure if this is a gender thing or just a personality issue, but I noticed that when I resisted the urge to always jump in, the other members in my group, mostly women spoke more often. It helped the flow of conversation when I listened more often.

And as I resisted the urge to always talk first and became a better listener, I began to notice how often the rest of the men in the room filled the silences and spoke at length sharing their ideas. Two questions arose for me:

  1. Why do men feel the need to be heard so forcefully and so often?
  2. Why do women tend to wait until the moment is right?

Creative Common Image by KeithBurtis

The implications are two fold, I suppose. Firstly, how often does this gender domination happen in our classrooms? How often are boys encouraged or allowed to speak their minds, (Even when they don’t really have anything to say), while girls hold back and wait their turn? How often do boys feel the need to fill silences and be heard, when it might be best for the group if they simple waited to speak and listened more?

Secondly, as men on staff in schools, how aware are we of our desire to be heard, to fill silences, and to interrupt? I have been very cognizant of my role on my team this year, and I have been making an effort not to do those thing, even thought they feel so natural.

Is my need to talk so often at the expense of others part of my personality or does it have something to do with how men are taught and encouraged to be dominate?

I would encourage any men reading this post to listen more and talk less and see how your interactions, in groups where women are present, change. It was eye opening for me. And for the women reading this post, am I right about this? Or are you constantly waiting for the dude at your table to shut up so you can speak or do you jump right in? I am curious about your thoughts on the questions I have raised.


5 thoughts on “Listen Up Gentlemen!

  1. avatarJane Altemen

    I am female and I feel the need to jump in. Happens at every workshop I attend.

    Is that because my table mates arent north american like me so they have different pace?
    Is it because I am a teacher?
    Is it because I am first born?
    My coffee cup assures me that I’m not bossy, I just have better ideas.

    Your observations re listening remind me of a pearl from Alfie Kohn, but I will edit :

    ‘ the best table mates have teeth marks on their tongue’ which is what he says about teachers.

  2. avatarBrighde Reed
    Twitter: brighde

    This is something that drives me mental and I get cross with myself that I am not more assertive in this regard but I just think it is so rude to interrupt and to jump in (which feels almost as bad as interrupting and I maintain that it is).

    I sometimes come away from ‘conversations’ wanting to have asked the person I am with… ‘So, we’ve been talking for 10 minutes, percentage wise how much were you talking and how much was I talking?” And not just with men… I find it especially hard in meetings where everyone is so keen to share their thoughts there is no pausing … and I need pausing… I am actually focussing on what the person is saying and trying to understand them, then I need to time to think and respond. By the time there is a pause, we are 3 agenda items further on! But I guess that is not really what the crux of your post is about. I do think we need to get over our awkwardness about silences in conversation and realise that conversation is a bit of an art and imagine if we’d practice!!

    Jabiz, I would suggest you teach your girls strategies and skills to help them share their thoughts in mixed gatherings because while they are prob good right now, in adolescence that might change… Indeed, they should have them anyway to deal with that mouthy colleague or classmate they are bound to encounter in their lives.

    I had terrible emotional bullying from an idiot boy in my class in school that made me terrified to share my thoughts in class and I never really recovered. I am much better now, but I often feel unheard or suppressed which is so frustrating when you have things… important things to share….

  3. avatarSam C.

    It’s not a gender issue it’s the environment and culture of “(s)he who speaks first and loudest” gets recognition and a bloated sense of importance. We have bred this culture ourselves and only have ourselves to blame.

    The educational realm promotes the loudest and most arrogant to the top of the heap because they fake possessing intellect and knowledge with jumping on buzz words, over-saturation of social media usage, and gathering a loyal flock of people who don’t question them or challenge them.
    Content doesn’t matter anymore; reputation of talking a lot and having lots of followers, and tweeting every single thing that comes into your brain matters. And it’s not right. And it’s usually men (which goes back to being ape-like in our actions really).
    How many times have you been in a keynote by a “big name” and being thoroughly underwhelmed and insulted by the sheer banality of what they were saying? How many times have you gone to a workshop based purely on that person’s social media presence and being left aghast at how “famous” they are on social media?

    We need to scratch below the surface of everyone who claims to be experts and question everything they say.
    And stop paying people thousands of dollars to do keynotes at conferences.

    That is why people think it’s okay to take over conversations and be arrogant in demanding attention at workshops. And they’ve become assholes along the way.


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