real men don’t read the instructions

It’s a well known, documented fact that most men are not good with words.  We women are completely comfortable using our words to communicate, and communicate we do – about everything we’re thinking and feeling  – much to the dismay of the men in our lives.  One of my favorite observations about guys is this:  When you ask a man what he’s thinking and he says “Nothing”, that’s absolutely true.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love men. I’ve spent most of my life surrounded by them – I only have brothers, I work with men every day.  I admire their ability to work out their differences with little fanfare or angst.  Men can conceptualize three-dimensional objects in their head and do math without counting fingers and toes.  But one thing men can’t do is read instructions. 

The problem goes back to words.  If you’ve ever gotten a new computer, you’re familiar with the very large, poster-size instructions that feature very few words, but has large, colorful pictures showing what you’re supposed to do to get your new computer up and running. This is because the research showed that men would not read a regular instruction manual, but were receptive to colorful pictures on a large, shiny poster. 

One of my jobs is handling all of the Human Resources functions of our company, including choosing and administering the insurance benefits.  Over the years I’ve struggled to find a good way to get a group of men with the attention span of about 5 minutes to fill out complicated medical insurance applications .  In the past I’ve tried handing out the applications with written instructions to return them by a certain date.  Then I’d spend several days reminding people to complete them and turn them in.  There were always the people who would lose their forms.  Then there were the people who wouldn’t fill them out completely.  The whole process took several frustrating days.

I then decided to gather all the guys together to fill out the forms as a group effort.  This would at least insure that I’d actually get the forms back, but I discovered that leading 20 men through a complicated 4-page form, with teeny tiny writing and waaaay too many words, was like directing a roomful of 6 year olds with ADD.  Slow readers and writers would inevitably give up about halfway through the process, sit there until everyone was done, then turn in a half-completed form.  Most guys, I found, would fill out only some parts of the form, sign it and turn it in.  If there were parts that took much thought, they were almost always left blank.

It’s time to shop insurance again at my company, so I’ve come up with what I hope is a good plan.  I’m meeting with groups of 4 each morning until this whole process is done.  It’s a lot easier to help 4 guys complete a task that they find about as comfortable as a prostate exam than it is to get 20 of them to do it all at once.  And as long as they all remember to actually show up for the meeting, I’ve got it made.

I don’t fault the guys for hating these forms.  They are too complicated, too redundant, and difficult to read.  Unfortunately, health insurance companies really do want ALL the parts of their forms filled out, and for some strange reason it’s not enough to have one spot on the form for your name – you have to fill in your name about 3 times in 3 different spots. Then there are the health questions – which due to new privacy laws prohibit me from helping the guys with.  And they really, really need help. 

So here’s a suggestion – insurance companies need to come up with a new streamlined application process.  How about a large, fold-out instruction poster with colorful pictures?  Name Goes Here.  I Take _______ Medicine.  Sign Here.  I, for one, would be happy to help them come up with a prototype.  My guys would probably really dig a poster with naked women or a sports theme, although on second thought those things might be even more distracting.  I wish I could give everyone a financial incentive, because men really seem to like it when you hand out money.  How about $5.00 for every person who correctly completes their application? 

Hmmm.  I might be on to something here. 


2 Responses to “real men don’t read the instructions”

  1. 1 surplusvalue May 17, 2007 at 7:29 am

    By and large, with regard to communication (or a complete lack thereof), I’d say you are probably right. Although, I think I’m one of the few exceptions to that rule.

    I’m completely confortable expressing how I feel and what I’m feeling, and there rarely is ‘Nothing’ spinning around in my head. The majority of guys I know are indeed quite the opposite.

  2. 2 observantbystander May 17, 2007 at 10:49 am

    Surplus – I would have to agree with your self-assessment. You are probably one of the few guys I “know” who are comfortable with words. Kudos to you, kiddo!

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