Gender Communication Styles
This article questions and explains gender differences along with the diverse communication styles that women and men use in their negotiations.
Gender Communication Style Differences: Women in Negotiations
Little did we know that the communication differences we experienced as children on the playground would move from the classroom to the boardroom. As the face of business transforms with more women occupying key management positions, the requirement of reducing the gender communication gap is growing: miscommunication can cost money, opportunities, and jobs.
Statistics tell the story. In the USA, women compose half the professional managerial workforce. Half the students who earned college degrees last year were composed of women. Of those who have a personal net worth of more than $500,000, more than half are women. American women collectively earn more than $1 trillion a year. More than 7.7 million women-owned businesses in the U.S. generate $1.4 trillion a year. Women comprise 35 percent of the country’s 51 million shareholders.
Researchers in the 1970s predicted the disappearance of gender communication differences as women moved into higher management positions, the gap or “disconnection” remains.
Question: Where does this lack of awareness surface most often?
Answer: In organisations where one gender mainly sells to buyers of the same gender. Take stock brokers for example.
For years, male stock brokers have been selling mostly to other males – their comfort zone. Another example is the residential real estate industry where female agents dominate the scene. A third example is the health-care industry. In fact the potential for gender communication gaps are widest in those organisations where one gender takes up most of the senior executive positions.
As the traditional picture changes and both men and women must communicate in teams, manage, and sell to the other gender, their awareness grows. Yet the result is often frustration. In other words, they both experience the problem but don’t know where to begin to expand their repertoire of communication skills.
Professionals and companies that create cultures which encourages both genders in their career paths, recognizing the accomplishments and contributions of both men and women, will be the most productive and satisfied. And that will be the competitive advantage at the turn of the century. Neither men nor women are better communicators. They’re just different. We must learn to recognize these general differences in the way the two genders communicate and be more effective with the other half of the business community.
Questions. As females grow up in our culture, they are taught not to be confrontational, not to make a scene or be aggressive or pushy. So how do they express opposition to an idea? Frequently they use indirect channels such as questions. They, of course, also use questions in the traditional way: to solicit information to make people rethink their positions, plans, or ideas.
Men, on the other hand, do not always recognize indirect messages or pick up on nuances in words or body language. In short, they don’t always accurately “read between the lines”; to understand a woman’s meaning or question.
- Women ask questions meant as indirect objections, men appear to ignore their objections and feelings.
- Women ask questions meant only to solicit information to which men react defensively. Directness. Women’s language tends to be indirect, indiscreet, tactful, and even manipulative. Women tend to give fewer directives and use more courtesy words with those directives. Example: “The approach is not precisely foreign to our designers”; meaning “They are familiar with it.”; Or “Mary may not be available to handle the project” meaning “Mary doesn’t want to handle the project.”
Men’s language tends to be more direct, powerful, blunt, and at times offensive. Men generally give more directives, with fewer courtesy words. Example: “Tom blew the deal with that client because of his stubborn refusal to negotiate on the delivery.” Or “That’s a half-baked idea if I ever heard one. You’re dead wrong.”
When a female manager asks a male employee, “Do you think you can have the proposal ready by Friday?” and he responds affirmatively, she expects the report on Friday. When Friday comes and the proposal isn’t ready, the (female) manager looks at the situation as failure to comply with her directive while the (male) employee “just wasn’t able to get around to it.”
Small talk: women talk to build rapport with others, and to explore their own feelings and opinions. Consequently, they consider many subjects worthy of conversation. They often talk about personal topics such as relationships, people, and experiences. To women, an important component of conversation is simply “connecting” emotionally with another person.
Men tend to regard conversation as a means of exchanging information or solving problems. They discuss events, facts, happenings in the news, sports, or generally those topics not directly related to themselves. Other subjects about “routine” matters may, in men’s estimation, not warrant conversational effort.
Whether in sales, management, or marriage, awareness of gender differences in communication can prove a boon to your success in working with teams, managing groups, or presenting your services or products.
Dianna Booher, is CEO of Booher Consultants, a Dallas-based communications consulting firm.
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