John Gray has been described as “the best-selling relationship author of all time,” his
Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus selling more than 30 million copies in over 40 languages throughout the world. Dr. Gray has appeared on every media stage from Oprah, The Today Show, Good Morning America and The View to Politically Incorrect and Larry King. He has been profiled in Newsweek, Time, Forbes, USA Today, TV Guide and People. And here’s the best part: the good doctor is not only a certified family therapist, he is also a card-carrying network marketer. — JDM

Your Mars/Venus books were more than best-sellers; they represented a cultural watershed. What was it about your message that people so strongly responded to?

Whenever a message reaches the mass population, it does so because it strikes a timely chord. Victor Hugo said there is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.

The ideas at the core of Men Are from Mars were this sort of timely message, because as a society, we had gone pretty far out of balance. In the 1950s, everyone knew men and women were different. Then we moved into the feminist movement of the 60s and 70s.

This was a great thing, insofar as it promoted equal opportunity for women. But the way it accomplished this was by teaching that men and women must be seen as the same. This just isn’t true. And when I came along and said, “Wait a minute, what does common sense tell us?” a lot of people felt relief.

That was the core of the message: “These differences are real, they’re important—and if we don’t accept them, then we’ll have more conflict in our relationships.”

You say we knew we were different in the 50s. What’s the difference between then and now?

In the 50s and before, we knew men and women were different, but we didn’t understand each other and we really didn’t care. But in the 80s and 90s, now that we were starting to work together on more of an equal playing field instead of living in different worlds, we needed to learn how to communicate.

Where are we today in our ability to communicate?

I think our communication skills have dramatically improved. In sales, for example, the old intimidation factor just doesn’t work any more. People see through those old manipulation techniques.

What people want today is someone who truly hears your need, demonstrates that they care about your need, and is confident and capable to meet your need. Successful people have learned to communicate those messages. Those who aren’t successful, haven’t.

How are men’s and women’s needs different in business?

I’ll generalize and say, “When you’re dealing with a woman” or “with a man,” but at the same time, it’s really a question of whether you’re connecting with someone’s female side or male side. The female side of us needs three messages.

The first message says, “I care about you and how the outcome of this affects you; you’re not just a business deal.” This message demonstrates caring and sincerity.

Back in 1994 and 95, when Men Are from Mars started hitting mainstream, there was a huge shift in advertising, particularly with banks and financial advisors. The advertising message shifted to, “We’re a bank that cares… We’re a people-person bank… You’re special at our bank, we have a relationship with you.”

And this was consciously aimed at women?

Yes, because now women were starting to become more centrally involved with money.

The second message is understanding. When you’re dealing with a woman, you want to take more time to let her know you understand where she’s coming from. You accomplish this by asking more questions and being very patient if she has objections.

The same is true when you’re communicating with anyone’s female side, man or woman.

The third message is respect. We all want respect, but women are particularly sensitive to this message. Am I being respected as an equal? Am I being looked down at, dismissed, or excluded? You need to assure her that in your mind, she is number one. This can be as simple an issue as calling her back when you say you will.

A friend recently went on a long road trip to visit someone’s home, and told me, “I can’t believe it—when I got there, they didn’t even offer me a glass of water!” And I chuckled to myself—because I would have done the same thing! I probably would have figured, if they wanted a glass of water, they would have asked.

But women often don’t ask. They’re waiting for you to demonstrate that you are considerate of them, that you’re going to offer that glass of water. Women often feel more resistant to asking for what they want, and can tend to be more inhibited about expressing their resistance to something.

Which relates to the network marketing conversation.

Exactly. They might politely say, “I’ll think about it,” and the truth is, it’s over. But if you allow them to talk and express their resistance and their considerations, they’ll more easily be led to the place where they feel trust.

So you need to demonstrate to them that you want to listen?

That’s right. It’s a matter of learning to communicate in a way where you successfully convey your true feelings and meet their needs.

Women know instinctively how to talk to other women; men don’t instinctively know how to do that. It’s not that men don’t care, or don’t want to respect women. It’s that they don’t have a lot of manners, so to speak. They don’t instinctively understand how to communicate how much they care, understand and respect.

If you take a few extra steps to give these messages—I care, I understand, I respect—that builds trust, which in turn builds a strong business relationship.

Aren’t these messages also important for men to hear?

Of course—but they’re not the most important.

What are the messages men most need to hear?

First, the need to feel trusted. To feel that he’s regarded as having good ideas. Women need this too, but it’s more important for men.

A few years ago I worked with a very successful group of women who were consulting with CEOs. The CEOs really liked working with these women because they never challenged the “male ego.” They would say things like, “You probably already know this, but let me explain the exact protocol we need in this situation…”

They took special consideration never to present themselves as more confident or capable than the man. At the same time, they never held themselves as incompetent.

That seems like a delicate balance.

It is, that’s the subtlety here. The old-fashioned, pre-1960s way women would function within a man’s life was by positioning herself as submissive, insecure and incompetent. “I’m the frail little woman, I can’t do anything.” That poses no threat to the man’s ego; he can ride in on a white horse and solve her problem.

But as a successful woman today, you have to maintain a message to the man that you trust his judgment, that you see him as completely capable and competent—and at the same time, you’re also quite capable and competent.

The second message men need is acceptance: you are allowing the person to be the way he is and not trying to change him. Sometimes women will give unsolicited advice on how to improve a man.

Again, highly relevant to the network marketing conversation.

Absolutely. Let’s say you have a product that will make people’s lives better. You may start suggesting how what you have will improve him, and before long he’s thinking, “Wait a minute, I’m fine the way I am!”

Whenever you give an improving message to a man, “You should do this and this,” you run the risk of evoking a defensive reaction.

And this isn’t just about biological males; all of us have a male side.

That’s right. You don’t walk up to anyone, male or female, and say, “Hey, you’re overweight, you should try this product.”

Or, “Hey, it’s obvious you’re broke and a loser, you really need my opportunity!”

Exactly! You want to point out benefits in such a way that he can make a choice to look into it, but you’re not criticizing or putting down where he is now.

At the same time, you also have to communicate the message, “I’m competent, I’m an expert. I know something you don’t know. I also see that you’re quite capable, that you’re doing just fine as you are—and now I’m going to provide this opportunity for you.”

Sounds like a fine line of communication.

It is—which is why only certain people are successful.

You asked why the Mars/Venus books were so successful. In a nutshell, my answer is this: Because I don’t make men wrong. I tell women, “Hey, they’re from Mars! This is the way they are, this is how they do things.”

For communication to work, there has to be an underlying premise that there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with the other person, that you see him as quite capable and competent.

And the third message for men?

The third message men look for is appreciation. “Wow, that’s a good idea,” or, “Oh, hey, great to see you!”

Women often have an edge here because they tend to have a much greater capacity to appreciate. If a woman’s glad to see a man, she’ll say so: “Oh, it’s so nice to see you and talk to you!” And the man will automatically feel, “Hey, I want to do business with this woman! She appreciates me!”

And the truth is, when he goes home later that day to his wife, chances are, he doesn’t get that response. He may be in a relationship at home where, when he asks for help, he gets the message that something’s wrong with him.

Do men have a similar edge in dealing with women in business?

They do, simply because women are often in a situation where their husbands don’t listen to them and just try to fix every problem they have.

When a man can provide that kind of listening attention in a business context, that’s very special. Likewise, it’s very powerful when a woman can be very non-critical of a man and see him as competent, but also be very helpful and supportive.

In this business, the prospecting conversation is where the rubber meets the road. And that’s where we’ve often generated a bad reputation by beating people over the head with our three-foot ruler. Where do we go wrong in this communication?

One big problem in relationships is offering people unsolicited advice. If they want the help, they’re glad to get it. If they’re asking for help, they’re glad to receive it. If they’re not asking, then it can be offensive to offer it.

And that’s where network marketing gets a bad rap?

That’s it. Right now, I’m looking out my car window at a woman in the parking lot who’s overweight. I have a program that will help her lose weight. I’m a caring person, I know the program I use works. And I think, “Wow, I could just hop out of my car and tell her about it!”

What’s more, I can see that she’s driving a car that’s not so nice. I could say, “Hey, if you lost weight, you could share this with other people and be very successful and even drive a nicer car!”

Oh yeah, that’ll work!

And that’s exactly the open-hearted, sincere enthusiasm that network marketing people have. But if she’s not open to this, she’ll just feel offended!

To make things worse, people who are not open to new opportunities often are also uncomfortable saying, “No,” especially if they know you. So they’ll sort of go along with you. They don’t know how to say, “Look, I’m not interested in what you’re telling me—please stop talking to me!”

So, network marketers have to be sensitive to when someone is open and when they are not.

Yes, but it’s not that simple. “Being sensitive” by itself won’t get you anywhere!

Let’s take the example of dating. There’s a classic kind of insensitive guy who will just hit on women right and left. All the subtle hints you give, that you’re not interested, just don’t seem to faze him. Now, here’s the amazing thing: those obnoxious guys often get more dates than the other guys! How could this possibly be?

First of all, the obnoxious guy is not even aware that the woman is saying, “Go away!” When she says, “No,” he literally doesn’t hear it! “No” doesn’t mean “No” on Mars—it means, “Not yet.” Women give subtle messages that sound really loud on Venus, but often aren’t even audible on Mars.

The same thing happens with prospecting. The guy says, “Hey, look, you should try this,” and the other person gives all these subtle messages, “Go away, I’m not interested, don’t bother me with this.” But the guy can be persistent and make the sale, precisely because he’s not sensitive to these rejection clues.

And by the way, although I’m describing men as aggressive, women can be, too. This is a more male characteristic—and again, we all have our male sides.

Now, I’m not saying it’s good to be obnoxious. But there’s something we can learn from the obnoxious guy. You can make your “pitch,” and then listen to the other person’s resistance—just listen, without resisting back. And when you do, you’ve made a friend.

I often hear top network marketers describe how they were introduced to the program and say something like, “He just didn’t let up! He just kept calling. He wasn’t outright obnoxious—but he just kept encouraging me to look at it.”

There’s a subtlety at play here. Make sure you listen to what the other person says, and then don’t push back against it. If you do care, and you really believe in what you have, then there’s no harm in revisiting the issue again and again, because you do care.

And ironically, that type of persistence can actually help build trust. On a certain level, the female side of all of us feels cared for when someone persists.

Fascinating balance you’re describing!

Yes, and achieving this balance is precisely what makes people successful in network marketing.

The secret is that the caring is sincere. Part of what gives network marketing a bad rap is when people act friendly and interested, but are actually focused on closing their friend in the deal. The other person senses this and starts to think, “Does this person really like me—or do they just want me to sign up?”

That’s the subtlety. You have to come from your heart, be sincere, be authentic, share a little bit about yourself, and if they show interest, then you can start telling them more.

There seems to have been such a shift in people’s priorities since 9/11. Where do you see us as a culture right now, in terms of our life priorities?

I see us as having taken a step backwards. Everything in nature takes a few steps forward, then steps back a bit before moving forward again.

Before 9/11, we were moving toward a higher level of society; our priorities were shifting towards love, relationships, abundance, success and fairness. The personal growth movement was booming and there was a broad optimism. Then 9/11 came, and everyone backed down to a lower level of need, which is security and survival.

These are the basic distinctions in Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs.” The lowest, most basic level is survival. Once you’re surviving, then you start to worry about what you have, which is security. Once you’ve got survival and security handled, then you come back to wanting to achieve and to mate, to have relationships.

After this comes attention to fairness and respect, what Maslow calls esteem. Finally, when these other levels of need are satisfactorily looked after, we start to place our priorities on actualization, which means fulfilling our life’s purpose.

In the last few years, society has slipped back a bit to focusing on the basic levels of survival and security. But now we’ve moved back into accomplishment and achievement, and love and relationship are starting to be a resurging interest. We are starting to sense a return to the kinds of values people have when they’re living at peace.

We’ve hunkered down in the dark, and now we’re coming back into the sunshine.

Yes, I think so. We’ve been experiencing a type of winter, and we’re just now about to enter spring again.