Much has been written about how differently men and women communicate. I see the obstacles these differences can create in my role in supporting the development of women-owned businesses and when I mentor women who are new to the business world. Not being aware of diverse communication styles can lead to frustration, confusion and stress.
When I began my career 30 years ago, I didn’t have any women mentors, so I learned about gender communication through trial and error. Some of my hard-learned lessons include:
Generally men tend to communicate in headlines, while women tend to set up the situation by providing details. I’m a headline and sound-byte person who cuts to the chase. I’ve learned this approach can be very effective in business settings. I coach my teams to first deliver headlines and clear, succinct bullet points, and then fill in behind with interesting facts and anecdotes to provide context.
Success is based on teamwork, individual hard work and, at times, good luck. But what and how we communicate dramatically affects how people perceive our success! Sometimes women don’t promote their accomplishments as much as is warranted.
In general, women want to build relationships, so they tend to downplay their own role in their success. As a woman, if I assert my authority, I may disrupt our relationship. I find it’s very important to develop and maintain collaborative leadership approaches with teams and colleagues.
Here’s an example of how women build connections: In the middle of a business conversation one woman may say to another, “I love your suit.” The other might respond, “Thank you, I splurged when I went to Italy.” The second has shared information the first woman can use to build a connection, such as, “My in-laws are from Florence, have you been there?”
Awareness of common gender differences helps increase understanding, decrease tension and improve teamwork. Women in the workplace should not try to imitate perceived male behaviors, but should instead focus on their own strengths and talents. Men and women alike can benefit by fine tuning communication skills so all people feel comfortable sharing diverse ideas and opinions. Differences are to be expected, celebrated and promoted as a strength, not a weakness, because they enhance our potential for success.