Workplace Confidential: Real Gender Differences in Communication

Mar 27, 2013
5 Min Read

Remember Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus?

Romantic relationships are one thing, but no one talks much about how Mars and Venus fare at work.  In fact, there are significant verbal and nonverbal differences in the way the two genders get their messages across in the office.

Verbal Communication Differences

In the area of verbal communication, men tend to speak more concisely while women tend to elaborate or explain their points of view.  Men tend to assert their ideas as if they are fact, while women tend to phrase their ideas as questions and add disclaimers ("I might be wrong…") or hedges ("Maybe").

Men engage in verbal bantering and derogatory comments to establish rapport while women think a certain level of formality is more appropriate.  Men make demands of the team while women try to gain consensus first.  Men want to talk about plan specifics while women want to talk about needs and feelings.

Men don't give positive feedback as frequently, whereas women think it's important for reports to feel valued.  Men more often make decisions based on careful analysis of the facts, whereas women are more likely to spot the right decision quickly, often as a result of intuition.

Non-Verbal Communication Differences

On the non-verbal side of the equation, women tend to smile a lot while men remain poker-faced.  Women nod to indicate understanding, while men nod to indicate agreement.  Women stand face-to-face to reflect engagement and shoulder-to-shoulder to reflect disengagement.  Men stand face-to-face to reflect aggression and shoulder-to-shoulder to reflect collaboration.  In a work setting, women often contract to make themselves seem smaller, whereas men do the opposite and often expand their presence to fill the room.

Getting on the Same Page

Fortunately, there are things both women and men can do to improve their effectiveness in communicating with the opposite gender.  Let’s start with the women.  Women can speak in a strong voice even when they don't feel confident, concisely explaining the factual reasons behind their ideas and decisions, excusing themselves promptly if they feel their emotions getting the best of them, asking a man whose approach they are questioning to help them understand the rationale behind it, and steering clear of interpersonal criticism unless it’s absolutely necessary.

Suggestions for the men include hearing a woman out without interrupting, listening to and acknowledging a woman's feelings, asking for feedback as opposed to dictating, minimizing the jocularity in group situations, and avoiding aggressive behavior such as getting in a woman's face or raising their voice in a disagreement.

Everyone Needs Assertiveness

Both genders can practice assertiveness in order to communicate better.  Assertiveness is defined as expressing your views while respecting those of others.  The core of assertiveness is using "I" statements.  This means that you start a statement with the word "I," then you say what you feel or want, then you describe what happened to make you feel this way, and finally you describe the effect on you.  An example would be:  “I feel hurt that I wasn’t considered for this new role.   I perceive it as a setback in my career.”

Assertive communicators validate others' feelings and express their own feelings using a combination of honesty, specificity, conciseness, and directness.  They stay calm and ask for clarification when they don't understand.  Assertive individuals make consistent eye contact, stand up straight, and maintain an appropriate distance from the other person.

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