December 24, 2008
Continuing with the previous blog’s theme of communication, I decided to research the questions, “Do women and men communicate differently?” and “Does it make a difference in the workplace?” In conducting the research, I came across two very interesting articles and have summarized the findings below.
Article 1 – “Gender, language and the workplace: an exploratory study”, by Fiona Sheridan.
This article by Fiona Sheridan was aimed at conveying the outcome of a study she conducted which examined “the role that gendered talk plays in the workplace in both task and non-task related interactions” (2007, p. 319). Ms. Sheridan’s research found that men and women communicate differently in workplace situations based on their gender and that “the consequences of differences in linguistic activity between men and women in the workplace are enormous” (2007, p. 320). For example, the study found that men and women are different in the way they give orders, manage people and the communication they use for both. According to her research, men tend to be more direct when giving orders while women have a tendency to be more indirect, “soften their demands and statements” and “use tagged phrases like ‘don’t you think’ following the presentation of an idea, ‘if you don’t mind’ following a demand or ‘this may be a silly idea, but’ preceding a suggestion” (2007, p. 323).
Unfortunately, perception is often reality, and while women may not mean to come across as being tentative, our style of communication may actually hinder us at work because we may be perceived in a way we did not intend. Ms. Sheridan stated, “Although it is certain that some women lack confidence at work, it can be concluded from this research that women are often judged to be less confident than they really are because of their automatic ways of speaking” (2007, p. 332). However, the study also demonstrated that women’s communication styles are actually highly “compatible with leadership activity for today’s organization. Women’s speech has been shown to embrace a personal, concrete style, which involves supportive listening, sensitivity to other’s needs and mutual sharing of emotions and personal knowledge” (2007, p. 333).
Article 2 – “The differences between boys and girls…at the office”, by Margery Weinstein
The premise of this article by Margery Weinstein is that there are definite gender differences in communication at work but instead of seeing it as “rife with controversy” we should see it through the “lens of culture.” Ms. Weinstein explained, “Each gender is a culture unto itself, one that comes with certain norms and standards that can be misunderstood by those of the opposite sex” (2006, p. 8).
Based on her research, Ms. Weinstein believes that while men seek hierarchy and status at work, “in the female culture, the relationship, the connectedness, the rapport is ultimately the most important thing” and “that’s what really gives women their base of power and influence” (2006, p. 8). She recommends corporations acknowledge that women and men communicate differently and organize “a program where gender issues can be discussed” and where issues can be raised “in an upbeat and constructive kind of way” to minimize conflict (2007, p. 8).
Based on my research, the information in the articles as well as my own experience over the last 20 years working in business, I believe women and men definitely communicate differently. On a daily basis I see men interrupting business conversations more than women, I see women providing more praise and compliments to employees, and I see women using language much toned down and less direct than men. Neither style is right or wrong, just different.
Lisa’s Conclusion: Does the difference in communication style between women and men make an impact in the workplace? Absolutely! For example, men tend to direct humor and teasing at others whereas “women’s style is often displayed as self-mocking” (Sheridan, 2007, p. 323). This difference in communication style has a direct impact in the workplace because women “may misinterpret men’s style of humor as being genuinely hostile, where men often mistake women’s styles as being self deprecating, thus rendering her unconfident and incompetent” (Sheridan, 2007, p. 323). The key is to realize that “both conversational styles make sense and are equally valid in themselves” (Sheridan, 2007, p. 333).
How should women handle these communication style differences? First, realize there is a difference in communication style between women and men. Seek to understand these differences and how they can negatively or positively impact you in the workplace. Finally, use your newly found knowledge of the communication differences to build on your communication strengths and work to improve your communication weaknesses.
~ Lisa Quast
Article by Fiona Sheridan (2007), “Gender, language and the workplace: an exploratory study”, retrieved 5 December 2008, from http://www.emeraldinsight.com
Article by Margery Weinstein (2006, November), “The differences between boys and girls…at the office”, retrieved 5 December 2008, from Research Library database. (Document ID: 1164950321).