Men are simple creatures. Having been one for 54 years, I know this to be true. To survive and thrive, we need oxygen, water, food (quantity is more important than quality), sex (reverse the criteria for food), private time in the bathroom to read the comics, something to do, something to hope for, someone to love, and a sense of purpose.
This last one is connected to something we really desire: praise for our accomplishments. Since we can’t birth babies, we need to demonstrate our prowess by building things. We feel valued for and by what we create. That desire to make makes us bridge builders, skyscraper erectors, railroad runners, airplane designers, and automobile inventors. And we want praise from you for doing all that tedious, time-consuming, brain-cramping, dangerous, heavy, hard stuff. New Zealander Sir Edmund Hillary supposedly said he climbed Mount Everest in 1953 “because it was there.” I would argue he did it to impress a woman in his life.
Ladies, want proof we want praise all the time? If you are now or have ever been in a serious relationship, living with a man, recall the number of times your guy recounted on Sunday night what he did for you, for your home, or your children, over the weekend. “I mowed the grass, trimmed the trees, took the car to the dealer to get the broken left fratistan replaced, picked up your dry cleaning, took our little Timmy to soccer practice, and made the steaks for dinner last night.” When you hear this awesome list, you probably said, “Oh yeah? I did fifteen other things just like those, and 85 more over the span of the week. Don’t compare your efforts to mine, bucko!”
To this I say, you’re missing the point. Men aren’t comparing your workload to theirs. We already know you work hard, and usually, much harder than us (and for less pay and less glory). But men typically put their needs first; ladies you put your needs about eighth, after helping with the issues, problems, and concerns of your family, your parents, your job, and your friend with one bad boyfriend after another. Men are selfish about their own needs, more likely to see their issues from a narrower lens, and less likely to see the totality of your accomplishments.
Men are listmakers, no question, and always will be. But there’s a crucial paradox: the more praise you give us when we rattle off the accomplishments on our list, the less you’ll hear about our lists! We tell you about all the things we do and did because we want your attention, support, thanks, recognition, and appreciation. The less praise you give us, the longer our lists become! The more you hold back on those critical components for our self-esteem, the more we tell you what we do all the time. We’re needy, get it?
We write books, poetry, and songs for and about you. We make art and sculpture for and about you. We name ships for you. We fight other men over you. We start wars with other countries for or over you. We will lay down our lives in the cold earth for you and our children. All we want is a pat on the back and for you to say, “Thanks for fixing that broken stair in the basement.”
But you say, “Relationships shouldn’t be a contest about who does more or who does more for whom, in search of praise. We’re supposed to be equal partners in our efforts.” True. But I didn’t just finish telling you we’re simple and needy? If we fixed something, come out and look at it and tell us thanks. If we created something, tell us it looks great. Read what we write. Compliment our cooking, even if it’s just scrambled eggs. Admire what we create with our hands and minds. If something impressive happens to us, tell us you’re proud of us. It matters, because you matter to us.
An example: a colleague of mine was interviewed in an important national magazine for his work. As he was out of town, and he asked his wife to pick up a copy of the publication on her way to the gym. She walked past the newsstand every day for a week, and “forgot” to buy the magazine for him. When he got home the next week, no magazine. (Did you ever try to get a hard copy back issue of anything?) Her message to him, at least from his perspective, was, “The gym mattered more to me than your dopey article.” PS: They are no longer married.
We don’t want hero-worship; that’s dull, boring, and insincere. We just want praise, especially when we blatantly ask for it, which is why we so often tell you what we’ve done.
Dr. Steve Albrecht is a keynote speaker, author, podcaster, and trainer. He focuses on high-risk employee issues, threat assessments, and school and workplace violence prevention. In 1994, he co-wrote Ticking Bombs, one of the first business books on workplace violence. He holds a doctorate in Business Administration (DBA); an M.A. in Security Management; a B.S. in Psychology; and a B.A. in English. He is board certified in HR, security, coaching, and threat management. He worked for the San Diego Police Department for 15 years and has written 17 books on business, HR, and criminal justice subjects. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @DrSteveAlbrecht