Much has been said about men and women being from different planets with their own cultures, and when it comes to communication styles, this can sometimes seem true. Indeed, many of these differences are labeled as a “masculine” or “feminine” approach, despite the fact that they can be employed by either gender. As you go about your day, take the time to listen to and observe how people are interacting with each other. I’m sure you will notice many of these differences:
- 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.
- 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 get a drink together.
- At meetings women nod their head to show they are listening. A man thinks the woman is agreeing with him. He then assumes the woman 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 woman is speaking and she doesn’t see his head nod as he listens, she assumes he either disagrees or is not listening.
Now that you know these common associations, go beyond assumptions and instead interact with others based on what the current situation requires. For example, in certain situations making a group decision may or may not be practical. Consider these two scenarios:
- You’re wheeled in for surgery – the head surgeon 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 where she tells the medical personnel what to do and how to do it?
- 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 yet been decided. Would you rather have the director decided for the group where to go, even if everyone hates it OR have him take a consensus of the office employees to solicit their input?
In the end, “feminine” styles of communication simply refer to those who are more inclusive in their decision making process, while “masculine” communication relies on impulsive decisions and commitment. To succeed as a leader, you will have to employ both styles over the course of your career, so start getting comfortable with them both.