Gender Jive: Communication Between Men and Women

As Carl Rogers said, "The major barrier to mutual interpersonal communication is our very natural tendency to judge, to evaluate, to approve or to disapprove." Approval usually comes when my perceptions of your behavior match my assumptions of how I think you should behave. It’s time to stop shoulding on each other and begin to ACCEPT each other with our differences. This doesn’t mean we always have to agree with each other; just accept.

People perceive things differently due to differences in cultural/ethnic background, personal experiences, personality styles, gender differences, attitudes and beliefs, etc. This diversity may impact our ability to communicate with each other. Therefore, it is important to keep an open mind about such differences so we can reduce the probability for communication breakdown.

Not only are we faced with ethnic and cultural diversity at the workplace, we are also faced with

· different management styles
· different learning styles
· different decision making styles
· different personalities
· different genders

A deeper awareness of how differently men and women communicate is necessary in order to prevent these gender differences from leading to resentment, decreased productivity and workplace stress.
Research indicates men and women are socialized differently and consequently, have diverse styles of speaking. In her best-selling book, You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation, Deborah Tannen says the sexes often speak virtually different languages. She calls it "report talk" vs. "rapport talk."

Men and women, and their different languages

Men tend to use “report talk” to convey information and self-importance, while women tend to use “rapport talk” to establish intimacy and connection. Tannen says that women will then see men as self-centered and domineering, while men will then see women as illogical and insecure. What results? Accusations that are hurtful. Men will accuse women of asking for advice and then not taking it, of rambling on about nothing, and of being unable to make decisions. Women will accuse men of not listening, invalidating their feelings, and always stepping in to solve problems with a lot of "you shoulds."

Speaking different languages at work

In the workplace, these differences impact the way messages are sent and received, thus causing communication breakdown, misunderstanding and major frustration. For example, a female supervisor seeks conversation from her male boss about a problem situation she is having with one of her employees. Her intent for the meeting is to inform her boss of the problem. She just wants him to listen to her, rephrase and repeat what she’s saying so that she can become more clear on how she wishes to proceed. Perhaps he would ask her some probing questions about options, etc. Instead, he begins telling her what she should do with the problem employee. She becomes frustrated and leaves, feeling like her time was wasted. He feels he has solved the problem, and it’s time to move on.

…and then at home

Taking this situation into the home, the wife wishes to discuss a problem she’s having with her husband, and he jumps in with the solution before she has had a chance to process her options. She gets mad and leaves the room saying, "You just never listen!"

An immediate translation is what’s needed

In both scenarios, some very important communication skills are sorely lacking. First of all, the woman needs to be up front about what she wants from the man. "I’d really appreciate it if you’d help me process this problem by listening and asking questions," is one way for her to be clear in the beginning. If she decides she wants his advice, then she can ask for it. If she doesn’t tell him what she wants in the beginning, then he would be wise to ask, "Do you want my advice or just someone to listen to you?"
Having a deeper awareness of gender differences will help you increase understanding, decrease tension and improve teamwork.
It is crucial to embrace differences and realize that there may, indeed, be alternative ways of doing things. It would behoove us to listen to each other and be more open to learning from our differences rather than allowing them to stifle our growth and ability to communicate with one another.

As we move into the next decade, we are going to have to learn how to better establish and maintain relationships with clients and co-workers so that we can create greater quality and productivity in an ever-changing world. The best way to do this is to fine-tune communication skills and accept that people are different, and it’s okay. Follow these tips:

Keep an open mind
Accept and understand differences
When in doubt, check it out
Take the time to talk about talking
Create an environment where people feel safe sharing ideas/opinions

Nancy Stern, MA specializes in leadership and employee development. Since l972, she has taught thousands of people how to effectively communicate whether to groups or to each other. Visit her on the web at http://www.nancystern.com.

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