Why Are Men Behaving Badly? What Lies Beneath?
I write about listening and do my best to listen to people from their inside out. And being a former FBI and police hostage negotiation trainer I’m very interested in how people communicate during conflict. Apparently I’m not the only one. HBR recently ran this assessment entitled: How Well Do You Communicate During Conflict? that has generated over 18,000 responses in one week.
I receive a lot of mail ranging from the highly inflammatory to the nearly incoherent to the very articulate which I think the following letter is. I don’t think it excuses the horrendous way that Kleiner Perkins is going off on Ellen Pao, but it may give us all some insight into the “fearful aggression” (as seen in dogs who become angry when they’re afraid and who will never win best in show) that drives many men.
This is from a man about what goes on in him (and I think many more men):
“This is not an excuse, but it may explain what goes on inside the minds of men like me when we behave badly.”
For example one reason I and the other men engage in banter before any meeting or session — and I am aware that sometimes it goes on too long — and I know drives no-nonsense women nuts is because we are all conflict avoidant. And rather than confronting someone head on about their under-performance, lack of accountability or even something minor like their punctuality, we will needle and tease and be sarcastic and hope they get the hint. You might think of that as being passive aggressive, I think of it as being indirectly aggressive.
Another deeper reason I engage or allow the b.s. is because it is a way to feel out and take a temperature on all the other people in the room. It is often a way of revealing who is the most irritable, angry, agitated person and most likely to say or do something in the meeting that could be entirely disruptive and destructive. It’s a way to know who those individuals are ahead of time and to inwardly prepare or steel myself to deal with them if it happens.
Women may not be aware of this, but built into the unconscious of most men is the belief that if you rub another male individual the wrong way and provoke them enough, they actually may come back and shoot you. There is that primitive uncontrollable side to most men. All you have to do is check the news on any given day to see examples of it being unleashed.
On a more personal side, I live in a world in which I feel much is expected and demanded of me from all sides and in a world in which I don’t trust anyone. I don’t trust what they say and I don’t usually believe they will do what they say or do exactly what they say to the letter. And when I ask them about it, I expect them to come up with an excuse for not doing what they said they would do. Even in my marriage I no longer expect to be greeted with the warmth and understanding from my wife who I still love, but with whom we have drifted away from liking each other or being able to put a smile on each other’s face.
Furthermore, as a result of all this anticipatory disappointment and not having a way around it, I feel stress at any moment in time and look for ways to relieve it. And some of those ways are not things I would not want others, including my board, business partners, subordinates, wife, kids or my mother to find out about. These activities can include, drinking too much, using cocaine and/or other drugs, paying for hookers, using pornography, expensing things I shouldn’t, not refusing to hear or putting an end to ‘inside’ information that can give me or my department/company an illegal leg up and the list goes on.
To make things worse, at any given point in time I am a little paranoid that any and all of these things I do to cope with stress or even worse that are just unethical or immoral with no excuses will be exposed and then it will escalate and destroy me.
Despite knowing this, I still continue to indulge myself in these, because the stress is nearly unbearable, they have become addictions or the adrenaline rush is too overpowering and I don’t know what else to do. As you can see, there are many things I not only feel paranoid about, but deeply ashamed of. And I would never trust anyone to forgive me for things I have trouble forgiving myself for when my internally justifying them falls short. I just don’t seem to be able to stop them.
Welcome to MY world!”