Psychologically androgynous individuals make good collaboration partners

What if you could work or partner with someone whose behavioural response to conflict always seemed right, no matter the situation? They were assertive when needed. They were nurturing when needed. How unique would that be? You’d love collaborating with that individual, right? What would it take to be that individual?

Psychological androgyny

Men have a strong need to be assertive. Women have a strong need to nurture. Stop. Not so fast.

According to leading academic and interpersonal relationship expert, Eli J. Finkel, author of, The All-or-Nothing Marriage: How the Best Marriages Work, “the scholarly consensus today is that, at their essence, men, too, have strong nurturing needs and women, too, have strong assertiveness needs.”

(I’ve learned a lot from interpersonal relationship experts over the years; e.g., John Gotmann, Harville and Helen Hendrix, Esther Perel… and tried to apply, with varying degrees of success and failure, some of their wisdom, in my own professional and personal lives.)

Finkel draws on the work of pioneering psychologist, Sandra Bem. “Bem conceptualized assertiveness in terms of psychological masculinity and nurturance in terms of psychological femininity. We often think of masculinity and femininity as occupying opposite ends of a single dimension, but they are better conceptualized as two separate dimensions. Bem assessed psychological masculinity (assertiveness) with traits like “independent” and “forceful” and psychological femininity (nurturance) with traits like “affectionate” and “compassionate.””

Bem refers to people who are high on both dimensions – assertiveness and nurturance – as psychologically androgynous and well adjusted. (Note: psychological androgyny is different from, independent from, having a physically androgynous appearance.)

Problems arise when either assertiveness or nurturance are left unchecked; i.e., the person possesses especially high scores on one dimension and especially low scores on the other. “Unmitigated assertiveness is linked to destructive self-absorption and antisocial tendencies and unmitigated nurturance linked to destructive self-effacement and other-pleasing tendencies.”

Psychological androgyny and collaboration

Good relationships are fundamental maxims for a healthy collaboration.  

In the modern workplace, valuing quality relationships is as important as profits and results. It gives you a conflict advantage.

Psychologically androgynous individuals have high emotional intelligence, and they’re especially effective at adjusting their behaviour to address the demands of a particular situation. They are good relationships partners.

Interesting, and largely aligned with psychological androgyny, the Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode defines collaboration as the ideal blend of assertiveness and cooperation.

Collaborations are full of conflict. And, that’s ok. Conflict is inevitable. How one responds to conflict, isn’t. A psychologically androgynous mindset is better equipped to constructively respond to conflict.

Psychological androgyny is good for workplace relationships, and collaboration, and on the increase, in our “self-expressive era”.

Workplace training

“While psychological androgyny may be on the increase” observes Finkel, “the reality is that the grand gender convergence has not been entirely symmetrical. Women’s adoption of assertive qualities has been stronger than men’s adoption of nurturance qualities, a gender difference that is especially large among the less educated.”

Not surprisingly, I routinely see ‘assertiveness training’ as a key element of workplace training. I’ve not seen a training module focused on, and advertised as, ‘nurturance training’.

Workplace managers: Are you wanting a more nurturing, cooperative, welcoming workplace?

How about offering some nurturance training. What’s stopping you?

{Ben Ziegler is a collaboration and conflict management specialist serving SMEs, nonprofits, and local governments. Contact Ben.]

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