Success on the job and effective working relationships depend upon good communication – which means talking, listening and asking good questions. Easier said than done! When men and women communicate, it can be like trying to understand someone from another country (or planets like Mars and Venus). Effective communication depends on understanding the culture and customs of your gender as well as those of the opposite gender. The problem is that both men and women think that the customs of the culture they grew up in are the right customs to follow.
Many of these customs or rules are invisible to us as adults. What we learned as children (Boys: be aggressive, deal with conflict and competition in win and lose terms, be leaders, take risks. Girls: be nice, avoid conflicts, build and preserve relationships, avoid risks, be fair to all.) does nave an impact on the way we communicate as adults at work
Women tend to use a more indirect form of speaking (“Don’t you think it would be a good idea to…?”, “I may be wrong, but…”) and men use a more direct way of speaking (Less questions, more assertions, direct verb forms such as “Can” or “Will”). What happens is that men tend to view women who speak this way as unsure of themselves. Women perceive men who speak that way as aggressive or authoritarian.
There are also gender differences when it comes to how people listen. Women tend to be perceived as better listeners than men because they are pros at empathic listening. Women listen for two things: content and feeling. Men tend to listen for the verbal transcript and while they can repeat verbatim the primary points made by the speaker, they often miss the emotional part and are more goal-oriented. They want to hear the end result and they want to fix it for the person.
Flexibility is the key to effective communication in all companies. Both men and women must expand their communication strategies so that they can be effective under a wide range of circumstances.
Women can –
- Learn to incorporate a direct style into their speech, using words such as “I”, “I want,” “I think,” “I believe”.
- Know how to get to the point. Don’t beat around the bush. Eliminate unnecessary details if you are interacting with a man.
- Eliminate wishy-washy forms of speech: “kind of,” “sort of,” “maybe”.
- State opinions and don’t express them in a question form.
- Continue to share feelings but also state the facts clearly.
Men can –
- Incorporate some indirect styles of speech when interacting with women. Rather than saying, “This is the way to handle the problem,” try, “One way we might handle this problem is…”
- Ask a woman her perspective or opinion.
- Make sure men and women equally share “air time.”
- Openly express feelings and/or reactions.
- Listen without feeling responsible for problem solving. Offer understanding and empathy. Offer solutions and fixes only when asked. Ask a woman if she seeking your advice in solving a problem.