Cracking the Gender Code at Work
An Interview with Best-Selling Author Connie Glaser
Connie Glaser, Atlanta Business Chronicle columnist and author of "GenderTalk Works," was the keynote speaker at the newspaper's Women's Leadership Forum. In this exclusive interview, Connie dissects the differences between the way men and women communicate.
Q: What is the main difference between the way men and women talk?
A: Men tend to use conversation as a means to assert their opinion and negotiate -- and maintain status. Conversation is a medium for giving advice, directions and information. They tend to use short sentences and be very direct. For men, conversation is often perceived as a game of one-upmanship ... shoot, score, win.
For women, communication tends to be a more collaborative give-and-take exchange. They use conversation to establish rapport and connection with others, the subject of the conversation often being secondary to building the relationship. Women tend to use language to communicate feelings, as well as convey information.
Q: You state in your book that women tend to use more qualifiers in their speech, i.e., "I might be wrong about this, but ..." or "I think." Explain the problems with this type of talk in the workplace.
A: In the female culture, women often try to avoid coming across as too direct or boastful. Consequently, they tend to use qualifiers that play down their authority or status. Men will take these qualifiers literally and if a woman says, "This may be a stupid question, but ... ," they'll assume a stupid question is coming right up.
Q:Another point you make in the book is that men can't take a hint. What are the potential problems with this trait?
A: As women's language tends to be more indirect, a woman might say, "It's really hot in here," which translates into, "Turn down the thermostat." Women tend to be more intuitive and would typically understand the intent of the statement. Men tend to be more literal, and less likely to read between the lines. They probably think she's complaining about the room temperature.
Q: How can women get out of the habit of apologizing excessively?
A: When women say, "I'm sorry," they're often told, "Don't apologize; it's not your fault." But typically, they're not apologizing for having done something wrong, but rather feeling sorry that something happened. By all means, apologize if you've done something wrong. But women need to monitor themselves for constant apologies, as men perceive it as a sign of lacking confidence and competence.
Q: How can women learn to be better self-promoters?
A: From kindergarten on, girls are taught that if they do a good job, they'll be recognized for their work and be promoted accordingly. Unfortunately, success in the business world doesn't work this way. The right people need to know about your accomplishments if you want get ahead. Women need to seek out visibility for themselves -- volunteer to make a presentation, write a press release about recent accomplishments, network with company influencers, and let key people know about your successes.
Q: How can men learn to curb interrupting when others speak?
A: The language patterns of men and women are strikingly different. Women subscribe to the "fairness" doctrine ("I speak, then [it's] your turn.") Men subscribe to the "if you've got something to say, say it now" theory. Men can benefit by curbing their verbal enthusiasm and hearing a woman out. Women need to stand their ground and finish what they're saying without allowing themselves to be interrupted.
Q: When speaking in terms of the workplace, whose communication style -- men's or women's -- is more powerful and more likely to ensure success? Why?
A: Both communication styles have their strengths. Men's directness can be a strength, but they need to be mindful of not coming across as too authoritative or not caring about others' opinions. Women's ability to build consensus and collaboration is an asset, but at the same time, women need to focus on being assertive and decisive.
Q: When, if ever, does profanity work in the workplace?
A: In certain industries I've consulted with, profanity, unfortunately, seems to be the norm. On the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, for instance. I was told by one female surgical resident of a large hospital that she was advised that she needed to use more profanity to demonstrate her authority and credibility! As a rule, I advise checking profanity at the front door. It can make others feel uncomfortable and violates workplace protocol.
Here are ways both men and women can improve communication in the workplace.
* Avoid monopolizing conversations. Hear women out. Ask for their input. Keep interruptions to a minimum.
* Give credit for a job well done. As many women are reluctant to boast or take credit for their good work, they appreciate recognition, particularly in front of others.
* Invest time in building rapport. Relationships are important, and a few minutes of small talk can reap big benefits.
* Cut to the chase. Speak in bulleted points and sound decisive. Eliminate self-effacing phrases and avoid qualifiers that may weaken your speech.
* When it comes to emotional topics, men tend to panic easily. Don't ask him how he feels about something, ask him what he thinks.
* Don't expect men to be mind readers. If you want or need something, ask for it. And don't dilute comments or criticisms. Be direct, as men expect this and appreciate it.