Gender Communications; is work different?

Gender CommI was having a conversation with a co-worker last week and the topic shifted to the differences in communication styles of women and men.  The issue was her irritation with her significant other over an implied slight, which could have been avoided had he used a different or (in her mind) better communication tactics. At the very least, she felt he should have been more cognizant of hers. Later that evening, I recounted our chat in my head and two things occurred to me; first, the innate characteristics in the ways in which each gender communicates is a frequent point of contention in relationships and second, those characteristics are rarely included in business communications training. My goal here is to encourage business leaders and managers to break down some of the communication challenges, which are born of gender differences.

Fifty years ago, it was less common for women to be working alongside men and when they did, there was palpable resistance to them being there. At the same time, business communication was decidedly one-sided and most definitely top-heavy; the vagaries of human existence were not topics discussed during board meetings in those days. Even today, despite the fact that a massive amount has been written on the subject, gender communication in a business context is rarely explored by companies. To get a sense of how common gender communication differences are try this experiment for yourself, begin a series of conversations with co-workers or acquaintances regarding how different men and women are in their communication habits; how many begin to nod in agreement before you even complete your thoughts? Don’t they instinctively seem to understand where you’re coming from? So, if almost everyone understands, or at least can relate to this communication reality then why do organizations typically avoid its impact on business communications? To begin with, the subject is fraught emotional baggage from unpleasant personal experiences. I have known several female coworkers and friends who have lost jobs or never offered them because they were perceived (mostly by men) as “too emotional” or having “problematic” communication skills. Secondly, to acknowledge any gender differences in communication could potentially leave an organization open to allegations of bias and stereotyping.

Today, gender communication differences are wrapped in something called soft skills. Soft skills are actually a collection of a variety of skills or habits, which illustrate our relationships and interactions with others. These habits include how we communicate, present, lead, interview, persuade, manage and so on; they also include how we manage our stress, our emotions, our level of patience and how self-aware we are. You can learn more about these skills at Career Coach Lei Han’s Ask a Wharton MBA Web site. For those of you who are confusing soft skills as having something to do with gender, remember I stated that gender differences are “wrapped” in soft skills and therefore not gender specific. This is an important distinction because the biggest hurdle leaders will have to overcome when beginning this discussion with employees is stereotyping. Much of why so many people seem well versed in gender differences is based gender stereotyping and gender bias. Recent scientific studies have revealed one thing we have assumed all along, that there are real differences in the way the male and female brain develops, and is used. There is no debate over with is better, there are advantages on both sides and yes, disadvantages on both as well.

What leaders should be focusing on is how to combine the talents of both by understanding what the practical differences are. For example, women tend to focus on creating solutions that incorporate the group, while men tend to be more task-oriented and work better in isolation. The chart below offers some additional examples of gender differences, which can be useful in managing the talents of your staff:

Area

Men

Women

Information

Process information internally   and dispenses it to demonstrate expertise

Share information as a way to   build relationships

Listening

Tend to listen primarily for information relevant to   the task at hand

Tend to be more interested in understanding the speaker’s   experience and underlying messages

Decision making

Tend to operate unilaterally,   focus on long-term results and see greater significance on the decision   affect on the competitive environment

Seeks input and consensus, more   comfortable taking suggestions and consider how decisions affect the team

Sources: Simma Lieberman & Associates / Executive Coaching & Consulting Associates

When it comes to conflict resolution, there is no data that proves that one gender is better than the other at coming up with satisfactory conclusions. In fact, when it comes to any these tendencies, they are no more than generalities, which can be influenced by culture, life experience age and a host of other factors.

Leaders and managers should strive to be aware that differences do exist, but not exclusive of other dynamics and that assuming certain inherent traits based solely on gender can lead to misunderstandings, gender stereotyping, poor employee morale and wasting of personnel talent.

~ Richard

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About Richard
I have spent my entire life learning to be a better communicator in in all facets of my life. I have learned as much from my failures as I have from success; laughing, crying and loving along the way. After earning a B.S. in Communications I decided to share what I have learned while continuing my own personal growth. I believe that the better we are to each other, the richer our lives will become.

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