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Men are clueless July 13, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineerblogs.org, engineering, societal commentary.
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I wrote up a post over at EngineerBlogs yesterday called Dating Advice for Women Engineers.  (Yeah, I forgot to post a link here…)  After I wrote it up and posted it, I reread it and realized that maybe a better title should’ve been something like “A Woman’s Guide to Dating Male Engineers”.  And then I worried that I was going to get ragged on for making male engineers sound stupid or clueless.  Fortunately, there have been no such responses, which is good because while some may assume that was the implication, that would be a false assumption.

Here’s the thing I’ve come to understand: many males, but particularly male engineers, aren’t clueless.  I know that may come as a surprise to some.  The reality is that I think engineers expect people to just be direct.  And frankly, I really appreciate that.  I like being able to just say what I think to my husband and not try to couch everything in terms that won’t injure his ego.  And I know that if he says something critical, it’s not that he’s saying he doesn’t like me or anything, he just is making a point about something.  It’s a lot easier for us to separate our personal feelings and feelings about outside issues.  We can argue passionately about stuff we do at work, and it has nothing to do with whether or not I like him as a person.

I’ve never been good at the whole ‘dropping hints’ thing.  That’s probably a good thing because I have also observed that a lot of guys think that when you say something doesn’t matter, it really doesn’t.  Being subtle and dropping hints have never been terribly effective means of communicating what you want, despite the fact I see people doing it all the time.  When I do see someone trying it, I seem to pick it up sometimes, but I usually roll my eyes and think, “Just spit it out already!”

Anyway, the point of this was that I think people ought to just be more direct.  Tactful is also appreciated and ought to be used liberally…but not to the point where it obfuscates your message.  And if someone doesn’t get what you’re saying (especially if it’s a guy), it may be because he’s clueless, but it’s also worthwhile to see how clearly you’re communicating.



1. Charles J Gervasi - July 13, 2012

I didn’t know until I saw the TI dating guide for engineers that you should not take a ham radio on a date. I’m glad I found out before I met Melinda.

I’m told that when engineers talk at a white board, it sounds like they’re angry. A week later a non-engineer told me, “remember how strongly you disagreed about XYZ.” Neither one of us could remember the conversation. No one was angry in the slightest degree.

mareserinitatis - July 13, 2012

The whole “sounding angry” thing took me a while to get over. I know that when I first started to ‘discuss’ this stuff, I would actually get upset…but pretty soon I started to realize it wasn’t worth it. However, I still get worked up when I’m arguing, and now people tell me I sound angry, too. :-D

2. Mados - July 14, 2012

And if someone doesn’t get what you’re saying (especially if it’s a guy), it may be because he’s clueless, but it’s also worthwhile to see how clearly you’re communicating.

Precisely! And it is not only relevant for dating and communicating with men, but also for communicating in workplaces and other places where drama queens who expect others to pick up their ‘hints’ and/or who read ‘hidden hints’ into other people’s behaviour can create heaps of… drama. It is the same type of woman who gossip a lot and always circle around how clueless/brutal/selfish/inconsiderate men are, and how typical womanish it is to love shopping and ladies’ magazines and sofa cushions (or something). Who cherishes and always works to expand the cultural gap between the male and female stereotypes and in my opinion, deserves communication problems in dating and marriage. The communication problems are part of their life style and something they are proud of and need (drama) rather than seeking a solution to. So all is good…

That is how I see it.

mareserinitatis - July 14, 2012

You know, I agree with you in some ways, but I think there’s two things going on. First, I think women are socialized to not be confrontational. (I know that I certainly was, and it took a long time to realize it and get away from those behaviors.) However, I think there’s another step beyond this ‘poor communication’. I think there’s some expectation that people should always “do something” in response to your behaviors. (I think I see this more among SJ-types (if you’re familiar with Myers Briggs) because of their tendency to desire to maintain established societal norms.) Women will refuse to assert themselves but still want something, and then go doing the stuff you mentioned above. Males of this type will assume that because they are older, wiser, and have more testicles, you’re automatically supposed to respect their authority and do whatever they say. So a woman who expects men (and most people in general) to act this way will need to find a passive way of getting what she wants, and men who think this way always need to feel like they’re in their appropriate role (one of leadership).

So I know exactly what you’re talking about, and it drives me nuts, also, but I also think there is a bit more to it than poor communication. :-)

Mados - July 15, 2012

I think there’s some expectation that people should always “do something” in response to your behaviors.[...]
Women will refuse to assert themselves but still want something, and then go doing the stuff you mentioned above

I think you are very right about women being socialised to not be confrontational. In my case, I probably didn’t pay enough attention to really internalise it … If I do send ‘hints’ to people they are quite intentional and obvious, and if they don’t work, then my direct, clear message follows shortly after. I really can’t see the virtues in mind-reading games (when people think they can read others’ minds, or that other should be able to read their minds). As I see it, it causes lots of speculations, misunderstandings and dramas where there didn’t need to be any.

And yes, I have read abut the Myer-Briggs personality types, but mainly about my own (after taking some tests) – INTJ, that isn’t exactly the most understanding & accommodating one of them;-) so maybe that also helps explain my lack of understanding of the kind of behaviour you describe.

mareserinitatis - July 15, 2012

That makes sense. Both my husband and I are INTJs, so we’ve both had to work on the “tact” part and back off a bit on the “blunt”. :-)

Mados - July 15, 2012

That is funny. INTJ is supposed to be one of the rarest personality types.

Charles J Gervasi - July 15, 2012

My type on Myers-Briggs is INTJ too. Myers-Briggs personality summaries are a step up from horoscopes, but they’re good in that they get people thinking about the issues and they discourage valuing one trait over another.

mareserinitatis - July 15, 2012

I know that I’ve read they’re flawed because of self-reporting, but I tend to think they’re at least accurate in reporting the kinds of things one values. (Also, they are extremely useful in predicting academic performance and preferences – http://www4.ncsu.edu/unity/lockers/users/f/felder/public/Papers/LS_Validity(On-Course).pdf) I believe the notion that MBTI is not valid came from a single paper about 20 years ago and said there was no evidence for it…and yet there are many fields where the tool is a fairly accurate predictor of behavior, such as described above.

3. nicoleandmaggie - July 14, 2012

Nobody can read minds. That’s one of the advice things for anybody in a relationship, engineer or not, male or female. It’s more difficult to realize when you seem so in tune with someone you love, but even then there will be times when mindreading just doesn’t happen. Trust that the other person is not intentionally making you upset helps a lot.


We also have a post on why engineers make the best mates. :)

mareserinitatis - July 14, 2012

My experience is that respect is definitely the key in effective communication. It’s SO easy to misunderstand what anyone is trying to say, and unless you respect and/or care about them, you’ll likely not make the effort to get things clarified and try to understand the other person’s point of view.

Also, I think engineers make better mates than physicists, at the very least. They’re more pragmatic, while physicists are both intelligent and ego-driven, meaning they always have to be right. I honestly don’t know how my poor husband deals with me. (I think he lets me win a lot of arguments for brownie points, but he won’t tell me if that’s really the case.) :-)


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