by Dianna Booher
Little did we know that the communication differences we experienced as kids on the playground would move from the classroom to the boardroom. As the face of business changes with more women occupying key executive positions, the necessity of narrowing the gender communication gap is growing: miscommunication can cost money, opportunities, and jobs.
Statistics tell the story. Women compose half the professional managerial workforce. Half the students who earned college degrees last year were women. Of those who have a personal net worth of more than $500,000, more than half are women.
American women collectively earn more than $1 trillion a year. More than 7.7 million women-owned businesses in the U.S. generate $1.4 trillion a year. Women make up 35 percent of the country's 51 million shareholders.
Though researchers in the 1970s predicted the disappearance of gender communication differences as women moved into higher management positions, the "gap"or "disconnection"remains.
Where does this lack of awareness surface most often? In organizations where one gender primarily sells to buyers of the same gender. For example, stockbrokers. For years, male stockbrokers have been selling primarily to other males-their comfort zone.
Another example is the residential real estate industry where female agents dominate the scene. A third example, the health-care industry. In fact, the potential for gender communication gaps is widest in those organizations where one gender occupies most of the senior executive positions.
As the traditional picture changes and both men and women must communicate on teams, manage, and sell to the other gender, their awareness grows. Yet the result is often frustration. In other words, they experience the problem but don't know where to start to expand their repertoire of communication skills.
Professionals and companies which create cultures that encourage both genders in their career paths and recognize the accomplishments and contributions of both men and women will be the most productive and satisfied. And that will be the competitive advantage at the turn of the century.
Neither men nor women are better communicators. They're just different. To be productive, we all need to learn to recognize these differences in the way the genders communicate.
As females grow up in our culture, they are taught not to be "confrontational" - not to make a scene or be aggressive or pushy. So how do they express opposition to an idea? Often they use indirect channels such as questions to make people rethink their positions, plans, or ideas. They, of course, also use questions in the traditional way to solicit information.
Men, on the other hand, do not as readily recognize indirect messages or pick up on nuances in words or body language. In short, they don't always accurately "read between the lines" to understand a woman's meaning or question. The results: (1) Women ask questions meant as indirect objections, and men seem to ignore their objections and feelings. (2) Women ask questions meant only to solicit information to which men react defensively.
Women's language tends to be indirect, indiscreet, tactful, and even manipulative. Women tend to give fewer directives and use more courtesy words with those directives. Example: "The approach is not exactly foreign to our designers" meaning "They are familiar with it." Or "Mary may not be available to handle the project." meaning "Mary doesn't want to handle the project."
Men's language tends to be more direct, powerful, blunt, and at times offensive. Men generally give more directives, with fewer courtesy words. Example: "Tom blew the deal with that client because of his stubborn refusal to negotiate on the delivery." Or "That's a half-baked idea if I ever heard one."
When a female manager asks a male employee, "Do you think you can have the proposal ready by Friday?" and he answers affirmatively, she expects the report on Friday. When Friday comes and the proposal isn't ready, the (female) manager looks at the situation as failure to comply with what she considered a directive while the (male) employee considered her comment a preference, not a directive.
Women talk to build rapport with others and to explore their own feelings and opinions. Consequently, they consider most subjects worthy of conversation. They often talk about personal topics such as relationships, people, and experiences. To women, an important aspect of conversation is simply "connecting" emotionally with another person.
Men tend to view conversation as a means of exchanging information or solving problems. They discuss events, facts, happenings in the news, sports-generally topics not directly related to themselves. Other subjects about "routine" matters may, in men's estimation, not warrant conversational effort.
Whether in sales, management, or marriage, awareness of gender differences
in communication can prove a boon to your success in working with teams, managing
groups, or presenting your services or products.
Author/speaker Dianna Booher is CEO of Booher Consultants, a Dallas-based
communications training firm. Her programs include communication (writing,
oral presentations, interpersonal, customer service communications, gender,
listening, meetings, conflict) and life balance/productivity. She has published
40 books, including E-Writing: 21st-Century Tools for Effective Communication
(Pocket Books, February 2001), Communicate with Confidence!
(McGraw-Hill), and The Esther Effect (Nelson-Word). Several
have been major Book Club selections.