A book by Professor Debra Tannen about how men and women communicate includes this story: a man comes home from work and asks his partner “When do we have to be at the dinner party”. She replies: “You have time for a nap.”
That wasn’t what he asked but she answered a different question thus proving that women and men have diverse levels of communication. To communicate better in business or in personal life you need to learn and understand these differences.
To improve communication skills between genders, we need to acknowledge the differences and to understand them from the point of view of the communicator. But beware stereotypical interpretations. I still remember the statistic that after a meeting when men were asked how much women talked they said 75% of the time whereas in reality it was 25%.
Most experts agree that a balance of gender in the workplace is ideal because women tend to excel in some areas and men in others. Generally, women are more persuasive, like a challenge and are team players. Men will ask for what they want, when in doubt they will wing it and they make friends in high places. I knew a business woman who joined the company at the same time as her male colleague and saw him leaving on day three with the boss – both carrying squash racquets.
More differences? Generally (for all individual are, yes, different):
- women ask questions when making a point when all men hear are questions, rather than statements.
- women use a lot of apologetic terminology to qualify their statements – simply out of politeness but it’s perceived as ‘weak’ and ‘uncertain’ while men communicate in brief, direct, bursts which women perceive as ‘unfriendly’
- men are goal/task/solution-oriented while women like to consider different perspectives, think about the process and consider different opinions.
- men don’t share as much facial expressions. It’s sometime hard to tell if they are agreeing with you or not.
- both men and women like power. Men tend to seek it at all costs, while women will assume it when granted.
- men and women give off even different body language signals. Men sit further away, fidget, shift their bodies and lean back more when listening than women do.
- men don’t provide as much eye contact, while women have more face-to-face contact.
- if a woman nods during a staff meeting everyone thinks she is agreeing with them. While this may be true, it may also mean that she is processing the information and is nodding to show understanding. Men on the other hand are nodding to show agreement.
- men make decisions quicker than women. Women seek advice, input and consensus from others, while men tend to make decisions in a singular fashion
- men talk to negotiate and maintain their status and independence. Women talk to create intimacy and build rapport.
A team doesn’t have to be 50 percent women and 50 percent for it to be balanced but if you want to solve a business problem you need a balance of both perspectives. Which is when men and women working together can be the most effective.
When it comes to communicating between genders in the workplace, the cardinal rule is: Don’t judge. Instead, try to look carefully at your colleague’s/partner’s behaviour, consider that some of it may be gender based, and try to gain insight on how this behaviour serves or does not serve his objectives. If you want to step in and give support, do it from a position of understanding.
When that happens it’s a win-win for both companies and employees.