Gender communication in the workplace

We speak to gender communication expert and author Connie Glaser about navigating the great gender divide.

"Women are emotional." "Men are direct." These may be stereotypes, but there's little doubt that men and women communicate differently, whether it be in the context of relationships or in the workplace. One of the world'd leading experts on gender communication and female leadership, USA native Connie Glaser, was recently in SA and speaking exclusively to DestinyConnect, she reveals ways to adapt communication styles and succeed in the workplace.

Gender communication differences
Glaser says gender communication differences are "tendencies, not absolutes", but in most cases the perception is the reality. Differences in the way men and women express themselves are often due to social conditioning, says Glaser.

"Men generally use language to establish status," she says. "They predominantly use left-brain communication and are more literal. Women are more right-brained and are therefore intuitive. They place emphasis on building a rapport, so they often use more deferential language so they do not come accross as too aggressive." While such a strategy may work among like-minded women, such communication styles do not work as well when women communicate with men, says Glaser.

Women can, in fact, discredit themselves in the workplace by doing things like adding "disclaimers" to statements, eg: "You may think this is stupid, but…" Women also use "tag questions" and turn assertions into questions, eg: "This is a good idea, don't you agree?" While this can be a basis of collaboration, men often mistake this language for uncertainty.

Adapting communication
It's clear that in the workplace, it's easy for miscommunications and misunderstandings to take place due to these gender differences. Both genders therefore need to adapt their way of speaking so that they attain their desired results. "We do not need to change. Rather, women need to understand that certain speech styles may need to be modified to come accross as more self-assured or confident," says Glaser. "Adapt the way you express yourself based on who you are speaking to, which is something we already do when delivering presentations know your audience."

Glaser suggests the following ways for women to adapt their communication styles when communicating with male colleagues:

  • A common perception among men is that women are too emotional. Women need to be wary that having outbursts or crying in the workplace will undermine their credibility.
  • If you're criticised, take it professionally, not personally.
  • Men often feel that women take too long to get to the point, since they like details. So always lead with the facts and start with an executive summary.
  • Take credit for your hard work. It's something women often find hard to do. Women can also help one another in this case by giving credit to each other.
  • Capitalise on your innate strengths. "Women are intuitive and tend to read situations better than men, which helps when it comes to building relationships and understanding an audience," says Glaser.