Way back in 1955, the monthly magazine Good Housekeeping published a no-nonsense article called a “Good Wife’s Guide.” It was a different time for women, and gender-based codes of conduct were far more rigid. In that May 13th issue, housewives were given an unabashedly direct guide on how to cater to their husbands’ needs and to make them happy.
Among other fascinating things, it recommended that women “have dinner ready, greet him with a warm smile and show sincerity in your desire to please him.”Thankfully, at least in the Western world, women’s rights have greatly advanced in the past sixty years. But what about the lessons from that 1950s-era guide? Are they no longer relevant?
For centuries, women were expected to attend to men’s well-being and to even pamper them. Although the words from the old article may be archaic, they espouse valuable principles one can use to foster positive relationships – both personal as well as professional.
Because our success in life often depends on how we attend to the well-being of other people and how efficiently we cater to their needs and expectations, it takes only a little tweaking to rewrite the words from the 1950s so that they are relevant to today… 1950s:“Have dinner ready: Catering for his needs and comfort will provide you with immense personal satisfaction.” 2011: Determine and analyze their needs
To understand and take care of people’s needs we have to identify them and realize that they come in two forms: explicit needs and implicit needs.
Explicit needs tend to run a more predictable and rational path, whereas implicit needs tend to be random demands triggered by emotions and circumstances. Explicit needs are pretty simple and easy to address, such as: “we need to expand our production in China” or “we need to develop the company’s brand image.”
Implicit needs are more subtle because people usually don’t talk about them and would even deny them if confronted with them.
For example, let’s imagine a scenario involving the arrival of a new manager. His colleagues might ask what he expects from them, but their real question (which they keep to themselves) might actually be “Why should we believe you and follow your lead?” At the same time the manager can openly say that he welcomes any new ideas and suggestions while his implicit needs would be “Help me demonstrate my creative capacity by coming up with some great ideas that I can rearrange and take on as my own.”
An effective manager first tries to understand the explicit and implicit needs of his team members before assigning them new challenges. 1950s: “Listen to him: Remember, his topics of conversation are more important than yours.” 2011:Listen empathetically
Management guru Stephen Covey defines empathic listening as “listening with the intent to understand.” Typically we first seek to be listened to instead of listening to others. The strong impulse we have when we say “listen to me” can mean many different things, such as “Please pay attention to me,” or “Hear me out and admire the great ideas I came up with.” Behind this is an implicit need to show how smart we are or perhaps even how important we think we are or wish to be.
Listening and showing interest in the people we meet is one of the surest ways to make them feel good about themselves and validated.
Centuries of catering to the needs of men and listening to them and attending to the well-being of other people have provided women with powerful skills which they are now using their professional lives. By leveraging those skills, they have become more self-confident in their ability to speak up for what they believe in and for what they want.
And thanks to the women’s emancipation process, many of us have learned to realize that our own success depends just as much on the efforts that we make to attend to the well-being of other people, as the effort we make to take care of our own well-being.