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Articles - Communication Skills in Family - Business

Couples can balance dynamics of decision-making process

Thursday, November 23, 2000




By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.


Have you ever wondered why the symbol for "Justice" is a woman and she's blind to boot? Or another curiosity is that the statue in New York harbor, representing the United States of America is Lady Liberty. What is it that these female spirits represent? Why are women the symbol of our judicial system and the country as a whole? I think a partial answer may come from observing the growth of entrepreneurship among American women, both as solo entrepreneurs and as entrepreneurial couples.

Now that women are starting businesses in record numbers (i.e. three to five times the rate of men!) there are many more stories about startups that involve women entrepreneurs. Especially the Internet and telecommuting have opened an avalanche of opportunities for women. Women are also better educated than before and many are educated in traditionally male dominated fields such as business management, the sciences, and engineering. As a result we are gathering more and more information on how these women function as entrepreneurs and how they are different than men.

In spite of parity in education, equal access to financing and an Internet marketplace that doesn't impose gender restrictions, there are a few male/female traditions that hold. When the owner is female you may not see much difference in a company, either with the product or the revenue. However, the differences between male and female entrepreneurs become more apparent when a husband and wife equally own and operate a company. Management, decision-making, even operations are powerfully influenced by these style differences. This can be an asset, of course . . . the integration of a male perspective and a female perspective. But often a husband and wife get stuck because they do not recognize the dynamic that is going on.

One of the most interesting of these dynamics between a husband and a wife who are both entrepreneurs is how they make decisions. One way I sum it up is that men make the first best decision, but women seek out the best-best decision. In the fashion of Lady Justice (where the blindfold represents impartiality), women want to look at all sides of an issue before deciding anything. They value everyone's opinion in the process of moving toward a decision. They may have a strong opinion themselves, but like the blind Lady, they are willing to stay impartial until they have gathered enough information from others. Men on the other hand seek to move the organization along as swiftly as possible. Regardless of everyone's view, men tend to value the efficiency of getting to the answer quickly. If a man has an opinion, dialogue with others is not always to merely gather information, but to persuade others toward his point of view.

How does this dynamic work when a husband/wife team needs to make decisions together? If they understand each other well, then the decision-making dynamic is powerful. If they don't, then each party can feel very misunderstood. For example, if the wife is gathering information from her husband regarding some aspect of the business, then she may initiate a discussion with her husband. He often doesn't hear that she wants to discuss the subject. Rather he hears that she wants him to make a decision. Therefore he tells her his decision and considers the discussion completed. She leaves unfulfilled because she wants to toss ideas around before a decision is made. Later when the husband's decision is not carried out, the husband may feel frustrated because he thought a decision had been made. Sound familiar? It's because women tend to have discussions and men tend to go strait to decisions.

When a husband and wife work together there is the potential to create a strong leadership for their organization. When a husband recognizes that his wife needs an impartial discussion with a variety of options before deciding, she feels understood and more inclined to move toward decisive action.

When a wife recognizes that her husband has a need to get things done as efficiently as possible, she can refocus her energy onto solutions, even if she would like just a little more discussion.

Lady Liberty represents this principle of the combined talent and energy of an entrepreneurial couple. That is, a woman was chosen to represent America rather than a conquering male warrior, because of the desire to represent our country as welcoming immigrants (i.e. ". . . give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free"). Lady liberty is carrying a torch in her hand, not a sword, symbolizing the enlightenment of democracy that shines out to the world. She holds the Declaration of Independence in the other hand as evidence that we are all created equal. On her ankle is a chain that is broken, representing freedom from oppression. Yet the statue is enormous, representing strong and powerful leadership and even domination in the world.

In other words, when making a business decision an entrepreneurial couple can combine the wife's strengths and the husband's strengths, and may just be what the business needs to keep its competitive edge in the marketplace. Just as Lady Liberty welcomes immigrants, the wife can welcome a variety of options and possible solutions to a problem, weighing those options impartially just as Lady Justice does. Lady Liberty also represents decision making in that she is holding the Declaration of Independence or the law of the land, just as the husband's strength is to get the decision made and follow it with action, as is implied by the sword that Lady Justice holds. In either case, whether it be the husband's or the wife's decision-making strategy, the goal is a fair decision, something both Ladies stand tall for.

To be sure many women entrepreneurs have the same decision-making qualities as men do. And there are male entrepreneurs who carefully weigh options before deciding. However, it is the interaction between men and women where you see the tendency to lean toward the more traditional roles. If you work with your spouse, you probably know what I am talking about. Now take this awareness and use it to the fullest to take your enterprise to a new height and enlighten the world with your success.