Book by Pat Heim and Susan A. Murphy
Review by Stephanie Ritrievi
David Eccles School of Business
University of Utah

At approximately 70% (Martin, 2008), NACADA membership is predominately female. Gender influences how we speak and how we are perceived. Thus we become more adept in our profession when we increase our awareness of communication tendencies, whether as a female speaker, or as a receiver of a message delivered by a female. 

A mismatch of communication styles is often the source of disagreements and conflicts. For advisors, these may be communications with students, colleagues or supervisors. Authors Pat Heim and Susan Murphy dissect these interactions and offer counsel to conflict participants, as well as advice on building relationships with female superiors, colleagues, and employees.

The foundation of this analysis is the model of the golden triangle, the equilibrium of power and self-esteem women seek in relationships with other women, termed the power dead-even rule.  Women operate with mores of reciprocity; we expect equity in the give and take of our talents, time, and interactions. Patricia Palleschi, a vice president at the Walt Disney Company, refers to this sense of equity as the “chip theory” (p. 26).  

A look at the behaviors of male and female primates, early childhood behavior studies, as well as comparisons of childhood games and socialization patterns, suggest these behaviors are ingrained long before we begin our professional lives. Boys play sports and games with hierarchical structures and rules while girls often opt for activities in smaller numbers and with flatter organizational structures. Thus, women enter the workplace with less conflict resolution experience and fewer confrontational skills. Women are socialized to process aggression through talking. 

When we connect students with communication opportunities we prepare them for a variety of challenges in their professional and personal lives. Are we, as advisors, attuned to these differences? Do we encourage women to seek roles that hone their conflict resolution and management skills? 

Building upon this understanding of biology and sociology, in the later half of the book Heim and Murphy provide examples of the tactics women employ to nurture and maintain relationships.  Women use qualifiers, tag questions, and other softening words and expressions in conversation to maintain a flat power structure and participatory decision making. The relationship is central to many of our actions and words.

For readers seeking counsel on balancing friendship and professional relationships, choosing between the best interest of the organization and that of a professional friend, and avoiding professional “catfights,” this text is a must read as it provides useful insight into the dangers and challenges of these situations. The authors provide suggestions on how to have healthy conflict with women including an analysis of conflict styles identified by professors in organizational management. This section also contains a questionnaire that allows readers to identify their preferred styles for managing conflict. 

In the Company of Women: Why We Hurt Each Other and How to Stop. (2003) Book by Pat Heim and Susan A. Murphy. Review by Stephanie Ritrievi. Penguin Group. 352pp., 14.95 (paperback), ISBN # 9781585422234

Actions: E-mail | Permalink |