Women in the workplace face a lot of unique issues, especially as they rise to prominence in their companies. Promotions and positions of authority bring with them frustrations and new forms of gender discrimination. Communication is one of the biggest obstacles for career women, and it only gets worse as they get higher up the ladder.
Some of the common communication behaviors women do are called self-sabotage or disadvantageous. However, that’s only because workplaces still revolve mostly around male stereotypes. Men and women often communicate differently, which can put women at a disadvantage to men.
Many of the communication behaviors that men in power exhibit are not things that need to be mimicked or learned. But, there are a few areas where women might want to take a cue from their male co-workers about how to get a message across.
Direct & Efficient or Insensitive & Aggressive?
The words used to describe how women interact in the workplace often vary considerably from those used to describe men. Leaders often need to be assertive, decisive, and competitive. These are traits expected of male leaders, but women who exhibit the same traits are considered difficult to work with, “ballbusters”, and unapproachable.
Women are often penalized for doing the same things that their male counterparts regularly do. But, that doesn’t mean women shouldn’t be assertive and direct. Learning to communicate efficiently and get straight to the point is beneficial for team performance, even if it may negatively impact a woman’s perceived likeability.
Rather than walking on eggshells or framing a command in a softer light (ex: “please send me the notes when you have time” versus “send me the notes by end of day”), women have to learn to take the hit and do what needs to be done.
Being Polite & Unapologetic
An informative 2010 study by Karina Schumman and Michael Ross shows clear evidence that women not only apologize more frequently than men, but also believe they commit more offenses than men on a daily basis. The study asked men and women to track every time they believe they committed an offense, what the offense was, and whether they apologized.
The result showed the women in the study believed they committed more offenses, saw their offenses more seriously, and apologized more often than the men. Unfortunately, women that over-apologize at work tend to be perceived as weaker, less confident, and even less competent. It’s time to introduce new words and strategies into regular communication rather than falling back on “I’m sorry” as the default.
While there’s no need to go around needlessly being rude, there’s also no obligation for women to apologize for:
- Not being able to do something
- Being offended by or misunderstanding a statement
- Someone else’s failures
- Normal management practices (disciplining employees, negative feedback, decision making, etc.)
Choosing the Appropriate Avenues
There have been far too many uncomfortable confrontations between women and their superiors because of the tone conveyed in the emails or online communications those women are sending. The general message seems to be that women who email or message “like men” sound harsher and appear to be upset.
As long as women are emailing or messaging in a way that’s professional, concise, and easy to understand, there’s no need to stress overtone too much. Instead of avoiding electronic communication in fear of coming across as rude or insensitive, women only need to check that they’re not using a lot of unnecessary words or oversharing with the wrong people at work.
Beyond that, women are fully within their rights to email or message “like a man” rather than feeling obliged to add in fluff or emotion to make their words appear softer. If an email or instant messaging is an appropriate way to send a particular message, women should do so, regardless of the company culture norms getting in the way of a productive conversation.
Unspoken Cues Speak Volumes
How you communicate something often adds just as much meaning as the words you’re saying. Condescending speech, overt skepticism, and frequent interruptions are traits no one should exhibit in the workplace, though they’re more common with men than women. You can communicate the same message in a more appropriate tone. It’s not about softening the blow; it’s about communicating in a way that doesn’t beat others down, particularly subordinates.
Leaders should be supportive and encouraging more often than they’re dismissive and unavailable. This applies to body language as much as tone of voice.
Men and women tend to have different body language, with men often being described as taking up more space, claiming physical territory, and being more focused rather than welcoming. Women don’t need to emulate men in this regard, as these same tendencies can be destructive in the workplace. However, women do need to be aware of what their body language is saying.
Avoiding eye contact, smiling too much, shifting your weight to one foot at a time, and receiving rather than initiating a handshake are a few problems women tend to have with body language. Reversing these and paying more attention to body language in general and what it’s communicating can help women get the respect and attention they deserve.
Communication in the workplace is a problem for both sexes. While women’s “shortcomings” are pointed out more often, there are many instances where a woman’s actions or words are not actually inappropriate in the workplace, or she should even be doing more than what she already is!
About the Author
Nikola Baldikov is a Digital Marketing Manager at Brosix, a secure instant messaging software for business communication. Besides his passion for digital marketing, Nikola is an avid fan of football and he loves to dance. Connect with him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn for additional helpful insight and information.