Part of my roll as a so called ‘mental health specialist’ (wank) is to attend a monthly get together with other professionals to discuss combined and collaborative responses to various pressing issues. The meetings are informal but always educational, and are something that I look forward to (especially for the catering).
One thing that you quickly notice working as a Clinical Counsellor, is that 90% of your colleagues are women. There are a few blokes scattered around the region, however, at this particular network meeting I’m the sole male.
The meetings follow a certain ‘round the table’ format, with each person sharing a case study or dilemma with the other participants providing peer support, advice, feedback etc…. The process is very fluid, and there isn’t one key speaker that drives the process.
I’ve noticed on several occasions that women are far better at this process than men. Women are generally better active listeners and are able to draw out and clarify information using a variety of communication techniques, which in my opinion makes for a more information, inclusive and educational experience. The way that it looks to a fly on the wall is basically a large group discussion. Then it was my turn.
“well, I’d like to talk about my success at using narrative therapies with trauma clients……..” Mmmm, something seemed a little different to me. I continued.
“What I’ve found is that a person’s script definition changes…..” Yeah, it’s definitely different in here, I thought.
“And that their personal narrative forms a …….” Bloody hell, that’s what’s different, there’s no talking, just me wanking on..
What I noticed was that there were a dozen set of eyes staring intently at me; not in a hostile way, but in an expectant way, like I was about to say something incredibly profound – I wasn’t .
I felt really exposed – where was my fluid communication experience? I wanted people to join in just like they had for the other participants!
As far as experience goes, I’m one of the more junior members of the forum, and I can honestly say that most of the people at that table dwarf me in terms of knowledge and application. They are people that I really look up to, so I was disappointed that my talk was more of a presentation than a conversation. After my bit, we continued around the table, and the fluidity returned. What was going on?
Well I gave it some thought on the way home, and started to come up with some ideas –
1) They thought that I was a half-wit making a fool out of myself, and they were simply too embarrassed for me to say anything.
2) They all thought I was a wanker, and were ignoring me.
3) I had a large string of snot hanging out of my left nostril.
Though all three are a distinct possibility, I thought them unlikely. The looks on their faces wasn’t contempt, just polite attentiveness, and I know (hope) they don’t think I’m an arsehole, because I get on really well with them, and many of them come to watch my band play.
It was then I had another idea that I think most likely. Although this group are a highly intelligent and educated group of women, I think that there is a possibility that the patriarchy has conditioned them to ‘shut up and listen’ when a man is speaking. I wondering if I’m way off base here, or am I on to something? Why haven’t I noticed this before? I guess I’m conditioned too.
If I am right, what can I do to change it without coming across like a patronising jerk?