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Play Fighting: The Male Banter Game

Men see challenge as a way of honoring someone’s knowledge or position.

Case Study: The Male Banter Game

Roger was a mid-level manager at a technology company and enjoyed teasing, joking and bantering with his coworkers. Some of his coworkers claimed it was a "sport" for him, never intended to hurt feelings but to get his colleagues to have a little fun and incorporate some play-fighting at work. The Monday morning staff meeting usually began with Roger's ritual insults and digs. All his colleagues waited for him to get going on the sparring. Usually the bantering was exchanged between Roger and his male coworkers who seemed to engage and give it right back to him. The women were simply spectators. But one morning Roger threw a challenge to Ginny who had the lead on a new tech project. In a playful tone, Roger said, "Hey Ginny, how in the world are you ever going to make these deadlines? You are going to have to become 'Ginny the Genie' to make that happen." Roger had the highest respect for Ginny, and she was known by all to be one of the most valued members on the team. Roger meant no harm, but because of her established position felt she was "fair game" for sparring. Ginny, unfortunately, looked visibly ruffled and later disclosed her feelings were hurt by Roger's "lack of respect for her ability to get the deadlines met."

Men enjoy and appreciate an adversarial stance. It is a way of connecting and a form of a compliment: "You care enough to fight with me." They see challenge as a way of honoring someone's knowledge or position. Roger was honoring Ginny by challenging her. Men like to play the devil's advocate. They like to take someone's idea and rip it apart and turn it upside down. Men never get over ritual combat. Women would prefer for everyone to play nicely, and they want everyone to agree in a discussion. Look around the room next time a heated debate begins; you'll observe women getting uncomfortable. We've seen women excuse themselves from a meeting when things get too hot. Conflict can intensify when women perceive men's bantering and playing the devil's advocate as real conflict, not the reverence men intend. For men, it is often a form of flattery if they engage you in opposition.

The next time a man is bantering or play-fighting and you're thinking, "This is war," remember that it's only a little rumble. Men generally enjoy the process more than women. That's motivation for women to get over it quickly. Men often turn business into a game, and they want to spar with their opponents. This isn't an emotional crisis or personal attack; just a little fun. It's sport.

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