While much has been said about women and men being from different planets and having their own cultures, the reality is that we have all grown up on the same planet, and interact with each other in different ways on a daily basis.
Its fun to look at communication differences between men and women but we also have to be careful to not stereotype and assume that all men will act a certain way and all women will act a certain way. We are all on a continuum and there are women that have some traits that might be attributed to the male style or there are times when it is necessary to use the male style and the same for men. Here are two examples:
Diverse organizations recognize that:
The head surgeon in the operating room is a woman. If she is operating on you would you prefer she uses a consensus based style to make decisions and ask everyone what they think during the operation, or a hierarchical style and tell the medical personnel when to sew you up. The consensus based style is considered female, and the hierarchical is considered male, but for that woman to be the head surgeon, you can be sure that she had to get comfortable giving orders and having them obeyed in the operating room.
The executive director of your organization is male. The majority of the staff is female. You are all going on a team building retreat, but the destination has not been decided yet. Would you rather have a director who decides for the group where to go, even if the whole organization hates it, or would you rather he takes a consensus based approach and asks for input. Consensus decision making style is considered a female style, but it that executive director is serious about team building, he better ask people for ideas, or they might decide they aren’t comfortable with his choice and be resentful, not the environment to build a successful work team.
Whether its nature or nurture, there may be individuals who possess almost none of the traits attributed to their gender. They may have been teased, harassed or excluded from things because of this, which is why its important to know and understand male and female cultural norms but also recognize that many people don’t fit the mold. So while we call certain styles male and certain styles female because research has shown that different ways of thinking, processing, perceiving and behaving is present in at least 55% of the male and female population, that leaves up to 45% that may not fit the description. As you go about your day, take the time to listen and observe how people are interacting with each other. I’m sure you will notice many of the differences outlined on the next page and discussed in the workshop. Be aware that very few people are all one way or all the other way—most of us have used the other gender style at different times.
Finally, remember that while its good to be aware of these communication differences, you must go beyond assumptions and decide how to respond and interact based on actual behavior.
Examples of Typical Differences in Male and Female Styles of Communication
Women are more likely to talk to other women when they have a problem or need to make a decision. Men keep their problems to themselves and don’t see the point in sharing personal issues.
Women are more relationship oriented, and look for commonalities and ways to connect with other women. Men tend to relate to other men on a one-up, one-down basis. Status and dominance is important.
Women focus on building rapport, by sharing experiences and asking questions. Men like to tell and give information rather than ask questions. They share experiences as a way of being one-up.
If women have a disagreement with each other it affects all aspects of their relationship. Men can have a disagreement, move on to another subject and go get a drink together.
Women get things done at work by building relationships. Men build relationships while they are working on tasks with each other.
At meetings women nod their head to show they are listening. Men think the woman is agreeing with them. He then assumes the women will go along with his idea. He is surprised when she later disagrees, since she nodded her head. She has no idea why he thought she agreed with him since he never asked her.
At meetings, men only nod their heads when they agree. If a women is speaking and she doesn’t see his head nod as he listens, she assumes he either disagrees or is not listening.
Too often men and women see the differences between each other and make each other wrong, rather than appreciating how they can benefit from those differences.