There were some tense moments aboard our old boat, Honfleur, during our early days sailing together.
When the Mate and I met, I had a boat, and had been teaching myself to sail for a couple of years. She, on the other hand, had been sailing once, liked it, but hadn’t had a chance to do more.
Starting out that way – with a pretty wide difference in experience, knowledge and comfort levels – meant that she always felt like she was in catch up mode, always a half beat behind. That isn’t a comfortable place to be.
To make it easier, I tried to help by explaining clearly just what was coming up next: What I would do and what she would do to make the maneuver, whatever it was, come off. So I’d explain, ask “Got it? Any questions?”, and when she said “I think so”, start doing it.
Which didn’t work very well. And in fact it still doesn’t work. She wasn’t ready, and wasn’t going to BE ready without a whole lot of question and answer and discussion and demonstration. I was content to know how, but she needed to know why and wherefore and all the possible results and permutations of the action we were about to take.
And friends, there just isn’t that kind of time on a boat sometimes. And sometimes – I’m sorry to say – I just don’t have that kind of patience.
So it was with great interest that I read a recent article about the differences in learning styles between men and women. MOST men. MOST women.
Yes, there are exceptions, but it seems that on the whole, the way men and women learn a new skill is very different indeed – and Nicki and I are a live example of the difference.
When men are placed in an unfamiliar situation and are asked to perform a task that’s new to them, they gather what info is available to them, then step in and try.
Sometimes they fail spectacularly, sometimes they succeed brilliantly.
Most of the time they survive long enough to learn to do it better. For example:
That’s me at the helm attempting to back Sionna off the dock the first time we launched. It was also the first time we’d been aboard the boat, and the first time I’d tried to back a keel boat. The fellow desperately fending us off the dock is the former owner. He was probably apologizing to poor Sionna the whole time. I learned a lot that day!
Now, if you place a woman in the same situation, something very different usually happens. First, they will often refuse the task (I offered Nicki the helm – she wisely said no).
Barring that, before they will attempt it, they will want to know exactly what is expected of them, what the expected response is, and what the possible negative outcome(s) might be if they do it wrong.
I’d sum it up this way:
Men look at the single task and attempt to accomplish it, assuming that they can.
Women look at the wider view, the big picture, and attempt to assure a positive outcome before they attempt it.
I think there are two ways of viewing this difference in learning styles. One is that men are reckless and impulsive and afraid to appear weak or frightened, so they jump in without considering the situation carefully enough (ok, this is probably true more than it should be) – while women are more responsible and reasoned, and don’t care about looking silly as long as everything works out well in the end.
The other extreme would be that men know how to separate cause from effect enough to make those quick decisions that sometimes must be made, so they operate that way all the time, while women study the problem so long that they struggle to make a timely decision.
I think the truth is somewhere in between. Or perhaps it’s a mix of all those. Harkening back to my earlier career in aviation, whether male or female, the BEST captains and first officers are a mix of both styles. If there’s time to hash it out completely before acting, they will. If there ISN’T time (say during an in-flight emergency), you’d need a stop-action camera to sort out the scores of suggestions, counter-suggestions and decisions that go into handling a difficult situation.
Back on the boat. If I want Nicki’s help, I need to learn to give her the time she needs to be reasonably comfortable with a plan of action . That’s her learning style. For her part, Nicki needs to jump in and DO a task sometimes, to push her comfort edge. In time, I suspect we’ll find that middle ground.