by Pat Heim, Ph.D.

During a break in a GenderSpeak workshop a woman told me she suddenly understood a difficult conversation she and her husband had. They had recently finished a major remodel of their house. The first water bill came and she has shocked to see that they were using 500 gallons of water a day.

She turned to her husband and queried, “Guess how much water we use a day?” She was surprised at his response. “Where are you going with this?” A strained discussion ensued and she had no idea why he seemed so defensive. She had been amazed at the amount of water consumed and wondered if he would be too. So why did he become defensive? She told me that during the workshop she came to the conclusion that he saw this discussion as an opportunity to loose position in the family hierarchy— possibly by not knowing the correct number of gallons, being accused of being a water-waster or other irresponsible behavior. Women often tell me that they are taken aback when their husband, male boss or co-worker became defensive over a simple question. I suggest they use the “hierarchy filter”, something most women don’t often employ, in order to assess the situation. Could he be anticipating a onedown position if he answers the question? If so rephrase the comment and take the one-down possibility away. “I’m amazed at how much water we are using. What would be your guess?”