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How Men and Women Communicate Differently at Work

by Beth Banks Cohn, PhD, and Roz Usheroff

He Said, She Said: Communicating between Genders at Work If you think it's difficult to discern what your significant other is really trying to say to you, consider how complicated communication between genders gets when you throw office politics, power struggles, and work challenges into the mix. Here are a few differences between men and women's communication styles at work. At work, men and women use strategies in communicating with each other that the opposite sex may view negatively. Often, misunderstandings can be avoided when coworkers look beyond personalities and consider the different ways men and women communicate. Let's look at a few examples from both sides. Men's Behavior Trash Talk. Men use negative banter, joking, teasing, and playful putdowns as a way to subtly keep themselves at the top of the power hierarchy. Such "trash talking" is a common component of male relating. What women think: Making others feel small is decidedly not a female trait. Women tend to see putdowns as arrogant or hostile. The middle ground: In general, trash talk is usually harmless, as long as both parties "play." When both parties engage in it, it can even be a way to bond around a problem, such as a trying work assignment or demanding sales quotas. Prideful self-sufficiency. You've heard the jokes about men not asking for directions? In work settings, males sometimes ask few questions, fearing that doing so will communicate to others that they don't know something. Males tend to equate knowledge with power and don't want to diminish their image by showing they lack the necessary know-how. What women think: Women see this behavior as childish and even arrogant. They also look at it as a giant waste of time, figuring it is more time effective to ask a question, get the answer, and move on. The middle ground: Some workplace cultures discourage questions, and indeed make people feel self-conscious about asking too many. In meetings or other settings where everyone needs to be on the same page in order to develop the best strategy, both genders need to find ways to get and give clarification.

Not Giving Feedback. Because men don't solicit feedback, good or bad, they also don't give feedback in return. Males don't want to be criticized, feel that compliments make someone less effective, and think women who seek feedback are "needy" and "high maintenance." What women think: Women think men don't value their contributions, and are overly critical. They may even feel that men withhold positive feedback in order to avoid giving women promotions or good projects. The middle ground: Constructive feedback should be built into the workplace culture. Both genders need to find a way to make it a tool for improving performance and productivity. Women's Behavior Equality-minded. Women try to maintain an appearance of equality amongst everyone. They are concerned with the effect of the exchange on the other person, and want to make sure everyone feels like a worthy contributor. What men think: Men tend to see this as a sign that women lack confidence and competence as leaders. They feel it makes women look weak. The middle ground: Females can wield an enormous amount of power by orchestrating collaboration and enlisting the cooperation between many parties. Men can learn from this. Nevertheless, women in leadership positions need to maintain a clear boundary between their authority and that of others. Outside-in Negotiating. Females want to see the full picture and make sure everyone's on the same page with the same level of understanding before making a decision. What men think: Since this is the exact opposite of what men typically do, men think this tactic means women don't have a clear position or aren't decisive enough. The middle ground: In negotiations, it's imperative to know all the factors involved before making a decision. On the other hand, trying to make everyone happy is not how leaders make good decisions. A balanced blend of female thoroughness and male decisiveness is ideal. Likely to Downplay Certainty. Women don't want to appear pushy or uncaring of others' positions or ideas. What men think: Men think, therefore, than women aren't certain and need someone to take charge. The middle ground: Moderate self-deprecation and humility are good qualities in leaders. But always deferring to others' opinions and perspectives will be perceived as a sign of weakness. Find a middle way. When it comes to communicating between genders in the workplace, the cardinal rule is this: Don't judge. Instead, try to look carefully at your coworker's behavior, consider that some of it may be

gender based, and try to gain insight on how this behavior serves or does not serve his or her objectives. If you want to step in and give support, do it from a position of understanding. Beth Banks Cohn PhD is a leading expert in change management and leadership development. Roz Usheroff is an internationally recognized communication expert and personal branding executive coach. They are coauthors of the new book, Taking the Leap: Managing Your Career in Turbulent Times...and Beyond.

Best Answer - Chosen by Asker


Interesting question! :-) Although there have been many books written about this Venus-Mars debates. I honestly don't think we communicate differently. Other say that we communicate differently because of the way our brains are wired. Where women are more verbal and men are more talented in visual-spatial. BUT, these are mental aspects that can be developed with training, so I ask myself if we are not just comfortable repeating some kind of stereotype about these assumed difference. (yes I have seen documentaries where it is stated that the female left side of the brain has more communication with the right side), but...the brain is a muscle that can be trained IMO Communication varies from person to person. Do we communicate better with men? or with women? I just can talk about my own point of view, but for me, it depends. There are men with whom I have fantastic communication, and with some women I just feel there is a wall, and the other way around. I think this depends in so many factors from education, personality, own experiences in life, age, culture... There is an interesting article about a book that touches this topic: Do women and men really speak so differently? In 2005, an article appeared in the journal American Psychologist with the title The Gender Similarities Hypothesis. This title stood out as unusual, because, as we have seen, the aim of most research studies is to find differences rather than similarities between men and women. Yet, as the article's author Janet S Hyde pointed out, on closer inspection, the results of these studies very often show more similarity than difference. Hyde is a psychologist who specialises in "meta-analysis", a statistical technique that allows the analyst to collate many different research findings and draw overall conclusions from them. Scientists believe that one study on its own does not show anything: results are only considered reliable if a number of different studies have replicated them. Suppose that the question is: who interrupts more, men or women? Some studies will have found that men interrupt more, others that women do, and others may have found no significant difference. In some studies the reported gender difference will be large, while

in others it will be much smaller. The number of people whose behaviour was investigated will also vary from study to study. Meta-analysis enables you to aggregate the various results, controlling for things that make them difficult to compare directly, and calculate the overall effect of gender on interruption. Hyde used this technique to review a large number of studies concerned with all kinds of putative malefemale differences. In Table 1, I have extracted the results for just those studies that dealt with gender differences in linguistic and communicative behaviour. To read this table you need to know that "d" is the formula indicating the size of the overall gender difference: minus values for "d" indicate that females are ahead of males, whereas plus values indicate that males are ahead of females. Click here for the table on Gender differences in verbal/communicative behaviour adapted from Hyde, 'The Gender Similarities Hypothesis'. So, for instance, the table tells us that when the findings of different studies are aggregated, the overall conclusion is that men interrupt more than women and women self-disclose more than men. However, the really interesting information is in the last column, which tells us whether the actual figure given for d indicates an effect that is very large, large, moderate, small, or close to zero. In almost every case, the overall difference made by gender is either small or close to zero. Two items, spelling accuracy and frequency of smiling, show a larger effect - but it is still only moderate. There were a few areas in which Hyde did find that the effect of gender was large or very large. For instance, studies of aggression and of how far people can throw things have shown a considerable gap between the sexes (men are more aggressive and can throw further). But in studies of verbal abilities and behaviour, the differences were slight. This is not a new observation. In 1988 Hyde and her colleague Marcia Linn carried out a meta-analysis of research dealing specifically with gender differences in verbal ability. The conclusion they came to was that the difference between men and women amounted to "about one-tenth of one standard deviation" - statistician-speak for "negligible". Another scholar who has considered this question, the linguist Jack Chambers, suggests that the degree of non-overlap in the abilities of male and female speakers in any given population is "about 0.25%". That's an overlap of 99.75%. It follows that for any array of verbal abilities found in an individual woman, there will almost certainly be a man with exactly the same array. Chambers' reference to individual men and women points to another problem with generalisations such as "men interrupt more than women" or "women are more talkative than men". As well as underplaying their similarities, statements of the form "women do this and men do that" disguise the extent of the variation that exists within each gender group. Explaining why he had reacted with instant scepticism to the claim that women talk three times as much as men, Liberman predicted: "Whatever the average female versus male difference turns out to be, it will be small compared with the variation among women and among men." Focusing on the differences between men and women while ignoring the differences within them is extremely misleading but, unfortunately, all too common.

Do women really talk more than men? If we are going to try to generalise about which sex talks more, a reliable way to do it is to observe both sexes in a single interaction, and measure their respective contributions. This cuts out extraneous variables that are likely to affect the amount of talk (like whether someone is spending their day at a Buddhist retreat or a high school reunion), and allows for a comparison of male and female behaviour under the same contextual conditions. Numerous studies have been done using this approach, and while the results have been mixed, the commonest finding is that men talk more than women. One review of 56 research studies categorises their findings as shown here: Source(s): http://books.guardian.co.uk/extracts/sto

How Men and Women Communicate Differently


If you want to understand why men and women communicate and behave the way they do, read the following article...

When it comes to communication, men and women might seem like enigmas to one another. For men, communication is all about exchanging of information, figures and facts. For women, communication is a way to connect with and improve upon their relationship with the other person. Since these two have completely different reasons for communicating, just imagine how frustrating and contentious it can get, if they do not understand how they communicate differently! So, to help both the genders have smooth conversations, given below is some useful information, which will help them understand each other's point of view. Communication Style in Relationships Women If you look at the communication between men and women in relationships, you will find that they are walls apart. Women in general, are very comfortable in expressing how they feel. Unlike men, they do

not feel the need to hide their emotions or weaknesses. If you truly want to understand how men and women think differently, simply think of an emotional conversation you had with your partner. Usually, when women say that they are feeling lonely or too sensitive or sad, they simply want their partners to acknowledge how they feel. Men however, feel that they are being criticized or held responsible for what the woman is feeling. In most cases, men will offer the woman solution to how not to feel that way. This enrages the woman to no end as she feels that her partner is not empathizing enough. Men Now, let's see how men communicate in relationships and how women react to it. All through their lives, men have been taught to be strong, never shed a tear or show that they are incapable. So, whenever they are faced with a problem, they withdraw. They like to think over their problems in solitude and find solutions to them. Women, being very good at mind reading, come to know that something is bothering their man, so they make efforts to find it out. The more a woman tries to question and reach out, the more the man withdraws and feels irritated. Ultimately, it ends with the woman feeling uncared for and unloved! The Solution Both these scenarios show how men and women are different! So, in order to avoid relationship issues and conflicts, both need to understand and improve upon one's communication style. Women should learn not to take it personally when men do not communicate their problems with them. Men on their part, instead of giving solutions, should learn how to listen more and empathize with their partner. Communication Style at the Workplace Women Women at workplace are proponents of equality. They display the same caring and sensitive attitude to fellow employees or subordinates, as they do to people they know personally. This workplace communication style may however be seen as a sign of low confidence by the men in workplace. Also, while arriving at a decision or while negotiating, women ensure that everybody's aware of the situation. They may seek opinions of others more than men in positions of authority would, this however may make the men think that the woman is incapable of taking decisions herself. Men Men and women's communication styles vary a lot in the workplace too. Men do not like to ask a lot of questions at the workplace as they feel that doing so is a sign of weakness. Men also indulge in a lot of teasing, joking, pulling each other's legs as making fun of one another is their way of relaxing and taking their mind off work for a while! This behavior may not be taken too kindly by women who find it very immature! Lastly, men, true to their nature of not speaking much, do not give much feedback, whether positive or negative! So, if there are women working under them, they might feel that they are not being appreciated enough. The Solution For overcoming communication difference in the workplace, both men and women need to stop making assumptions or judging each other. Instead of finding faults with each other's communication styles, they should see how a particular behavior is helpful or not helpful in achieving the organizational goals. Men should be more forthcoming while receiving and giving feedback while women should be more assertive and not depend too much on other's opinions, while making decisions.

Here's hoping that with this information on communication styles, you will be able to improve upon your communication and relationships, at home as well as at work!

By Aastha Dogra Published: 11/22/2010


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