In the past twenty-five years, I’ve led scores of leadership communication programs for women. In almost every program, regardless of experience and rank, someone asks me how women can communicate more like men.
After I take a deep breath so I don’t get angry or upset, I explain that we are not men and should not aspire to communicate like someone we’re not. If the individual is really asking how they can come across as stronger, more assertive and commanding like some of their male counterparts, my answer would still be the same. If you want listeners to see and hear you differently, you need to work on you regardless of gender.
Communication differences between male and females can be influenced by various factors including culture, socialization, parental role models and individual personality traits. Research shows girls tend to develop language skills earlier than boys which can result in girls using more complex words and sentence structure at an earlier age.
Girls can be more inclined to openly express their emotions whereas boys might be encouraged to suppress emotional communication. As girls grow, research says this often leads to girls being more comfortable discussing feelings and emotions. They same can be said for how boys and girls display different nonverbal communication. For example, girls may use more facial expressions and gestures to express themselves while boys rely more on body language and physical actions.
Just like young girls may learn it’s okay to discuss personal relationships, feelings and social issues, young boys learn to talk about sports, games, and activities. As we grow, this spills over to the workplace. Girls who learned to seek compromise and use verbal expression as children use the same techniques to resolve conflicts at work. They may be inclined to listen more actively and empathetically. Boys who are used to physical play and direct approaches carry that over to the workplace when focused on problem solving and offering solutions.
While these differences are general and vary from person to person, I believe breaking down gender stereotypes and encouraging everyone to express themselves authentically is key to promoting respectful healthy dialogue.
So when a woman asks me how to speak more like a man, I think she is not being true to herself. Gender stereotypes should not dictate how individuals communicate. Women and men should feel free to communicate in a way that feels genuine to them and not have to suppress their natural communication style. Additionally, it’s important to be adaptable to fit different situations.
Years back, I used to co-anchor the news with a male colleague. After a newscast, the boss summoned me to his office and stated from that moment on, only John would read the business news. When I asked why, he told me because John was a man, he was more credible when it came to delivering business news. While this was sexist, inappropriate and he was eventually fired for a myriad of reasons, that experience always reminds me of why it’s so important to treat everyone regardless of sex, race, culture, or any differences as equals. Being a strong communicator is an important skill that transcends gender. Here are a few key tips to help anyone develop strong communication skills.
Listen without interrupting or formulating your response when someone else is speaking.
Sit in their seats to try and understand where someone else is coming from
Encourage conversation by asking questions that invite others to share their thoughts and feelings.
Hit the Headline
Attention spans are dwindling so get to the point quickly. Long answers dilute messages.
Avoid jargon and complicated language that can confused listeners. Keep it simple.
A friendly respectful but confident tone can make a difference in how your message is perceived.
Be aware of cultural differences in communication styles and respect the backgrounds of people you interact with. Strong communication isn’t about conforming to a gender-based style. It’s about being authentic, respectful