Erica Jong, author of the revolutionary book The Fear of
Flying, once said, “Men and women, women and men. It
will never work.” Well, I have more faith, and more
experience in the business world than Ms. Jong. I know we
can make it work, at work! – and at home, too. One of the top
five challenges facing women’s advancement involves
communication differences between women and men in
charge. But communication is also a challenge for many
men – whether they are in charge or not.
I want to emphasize that both men and women would be
well served to use each other’s communication style – in
moderation. By no means should women use a masculine
style exclusively, or vice versa. One of the most damaging
behaviors many women adopt is trying to become “one of
the guys” to fit into the traditionally man’s world of business.
Doing so suppresses their authenticity and in the long run,
this does much more harm than good.
For those who may bristle at the suggestion to ever use a
style other than their own, I suggest you just simply re-frame
the perception.: Isn’t this a twist to the Golden Rule –
treating others as you would like to be treated? I.e. – if you
would like to be communicated with in your style, assume
that others would also prefer you communicate with them in
The following are communication and behavioral tips for
both men and women that will help improve their
productivity, working relationships, and chances for
TIPS FOR WOMEN COMMUNICATING WITH MEN (or
feminine style with masculine style)
– Be succinct, to the point, but not abrupt.
– Hold details for back-up.
– Avoid tag questions, apologies, disclaimers (“This is a
good report, don’t you think?”), (“Well, this is just my opinion,
– Take credit for your accomplishments. (Or someone else
– Give updates whether asked for or not. (You are not
bragging! If you don’t communicate your successes to the
powers-at-be, no one else will do it for you and your skills
may be underestimated.)
– Reduce personal disclosure and problems. (Men don’t
bond and process the same way women do. This behavior
makes them uncomfortable and they may view it as weak
– Handle conflict directly, politely, with empathy. (Be clear, to
the point, but not rude or abrupt. If you are nervous about an
upcoming confrontation, write out your thoughts to clarify
and focus them.)
– Make some decisions independently. (Rather than
consistently asking others for their opinion for consensus’
sake. Men see this as indecision and lack of confidence.)
– Avoid strong displays of emotions. (Men see this as
weakness – “too” emotional and not managerial.)
– Avoid saying “I’m sorry.” (It communicates that you were
wrong and is often perceived as weakness and powerless
– When interrupted, be direct and courteous, not sharp, but
take back the floor. (“Hang on a second please, thanks.” Put
your hand up to signal “stop” if you have to.)
– Remember you don’t have to like someone to get the job
– Don’t get mired in details; delegate, delegate, delegate.
(Evaluate if the detail is truly necessary. If you get stuck with
a big detail project, form a team to help you.)
– Communicate your vision for the company/department to
men/people-in-charge, and your ideas for achieving this
vision. If you don’t have a vision, get one!
– Be flexible and keep a positive attitude about differences.
(Different is not right, wrong, bad, or good – just different!)
TIPS FOR MEN COMMUNICATING WITH WOMEN (or
masculine style with feminine style)
– Don’t assume women’s softer style means less
competent. (It’s just different than your style!)
– Be personable and insert a little personal disclosure.
(Research regarding employees’ preferences for a
masculine or feminine style of management consistently
shows the latter is more effective and preferred by both men
– Maintain direct but not constant eye contact. (Women
perceive lack of eye contact as intentional avoidance and
disinterest in listening.)
– Say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ more; use demands less.
– Avoid interrupting; use active listening skills. (Demonstrate
that you are indeed hearing what she is saying.)
– Offer more details, more often.
– Ask women for their input and opinions. (When you don’t,
women think you don’t value their thoughts and
– Watch nonverbal language for confusion or upset. (Women
often don’t want to ask questions.)
– Recognize that her intentions may be different than your
perception of her words or behavior.
– Say, “I’m sorry” more often. (Including for small blunders or
– Be empathetic but not afraid of women’s tears. (It’s just a
different way of expressing emotion. She’s been told her
entire life that it’s acceptable and even good to cry.)
– Don’t underestimate a woman’s capability just because
she doesn’t talk about her accomplishments.
– Be flexible and keep a positive attitude about differences!
Different is not right, wrong, bad, or good – just different!
With these tips, , I think we can continue to disprove Erica
Jong’s assumption that men and women together will never
work. It will take commitment, consistency, and practice by
both genders, but we can all eventually do it – because
many are working hard at this – and succeeding already!
By Jane Sanders, 877-343-2150; http://www.janesanders.com.
Jane Sanders, president of Authentic Leadership Resources, is a speaker, trainer, facilitator, and coach in the areas of leadership for women, strategic life planning, gender communication, presentation skills, and facilitation. With Fortune 500 clients nationwide, Jane Sanders is a powerful and respected speaker, trainer, and consultant with 17 years of corporate experience in sales and marketing and 11 years as president of her own successful company. Her academic background is in business, communication, and psychology, including an MBA from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.
Clients and audiences alike describe Jane as highly results-oriented, inspirational, down-to-earth, fun, and passionate about her topics.
Jane presents keynote speeches and workshops for many companies including MassMutual, Prudential, CIGNA, Ford Motor Co., Toyota USA, Chevron, PBS, Anheuser-Busch, Ralston Purina, Xerox, Nestlé, Boeing, and many more. Her association clients are many and involve several different industries. Jane also facilitates strategic planning sessions and retreats.
Jane is author of GenderSmart: Solving The Communication Puzzle Between Men and Women, and has appeared on television and radio programs to discuss her topics. Reach Jane at 877-343-2150, www.janesanders.com
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