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Women: Communicate So You are Heard

12.06.17 | Susan Duncan

megaphone womanAll of the research on gender bias and communications indicates that there are significant differences in the way men and women communicate. Men often are direct, women indirect.  For men, communication helps achieve a goal, provides an answer; for women, it is more of a process, they want to tell a story and make a connection. Men usually focus on content, women on feelings.  Men tend to be self-focused, women are other-focused.  These tendencies have a direct relationship to how women are heard and interpreted both in verbal and written communications and ultimately can affect advancement and compensation.

Our post “Women’s Success Strategies for Advancement” explored several ways in which women can network and interact more effectively given the gender differences that still exist. An important distinction in gender differences is reflected in how men and women use verbal communications.

Use talking to display knowledge, information and skill to put him in a one-up position. Use talking to build rapport and connections with people; used to gain acceptance; give more praise than information.
Try to dominate and show superiority by knowing more than listening. Listen passively and play down expertise; try to draw similarities and create equality.
Use talk to get and keep attention – comfortable in large groups. Talk less actively in group settings – feel they are “on stage”.
Use categorical statements which display expertise and knowledge. Use personal examples and experiences which carry less weight and credibility.
Exaggerate and embellish skills and experiences to impress and dominate; wield expertise as power. Avoid discussing accomplishments and what might be perceived as boasting; play down expertise and avoid using assertive behavior.

Several years ago, Andrea Kramer, a partner at McDermott, Will & Emery published an article called Professional Advancement and Stereotypes: The “Rules” for Better Gender Communications. She wrote this article after serving on the firm’s Compensation Committee for over ten years and observing the stark differences between men and women in how they presented their accomplishments in their annual self-evaluations (“I Love Me” memos.)  She was able to identify the gender of the author 100% of the time without looking at the name.

Andrea Kramer and her husband Alton Harris recently published a book Breaking through Bias: Communications Techniques for Women to Success at Work.  I highly recommend this book to everyone, but especially to women. It provides a framework for how to understand and address gender communications, illustrates many relevant anecdotes and provides tips and resources. In addition to verbal and non-verbal communications, it offers insights on managing the impressions you make, agentic versus communal characteristics, self-monitoring, your attitude – grit and positive perspective, and much more.

Tips for Better Communications:

These are extrapolated from Andrea Kramer and Alton Harris and other thought-leaders:

  1. Learn to promote yourself effectively. Be clear and compelling about your accomplishments. Keep your descriptions simple and use actual and tangible examples and results.
  2. Be more direct. Say what you mean and ask for what you want.
  3. Be concise and get to your point! When women take too long, they get interrupted. Two different ways to be better at this:
    • Make your point, give your reason, give an example.
    • What is it you want to say? So what (why does it matter?) Now what should be done?
  4. Don’t stand for being interrupted, being mansplained or for idea theft. If you’ve made a good point in a meeting, claim ownership, pleasantly but immediately. If others interrupt you, ask them to wait until you are finished. Make it a practice to support other women who are interrupted in meetings or whose ideas have been “stolen” by a male colleague.
  5. Make a strong impression. Give a firm handshake and look people directly in the eye. Stand tall, lean in, be attentive; only nod in a meeting when you agree with points made.
  6. Maintain an even tone, don’t shift to a higher tone or faster pitch.
  7. When you are angry, look directly at the person and explain why you are angry without raising your voice.
  8. When you speak in a meeting, slow your speech down, use inflection rather than pitch to provide emphasis and avoid long sequences in higher octave tones.
  9. Do not discount yourself with apologies or disclaimers:
    • “Let me just run through this quickly…” or “I hate to bother as I know you are so busy…”
    • “I don’t know if this will be helpful but…” or “I may be wrong but…”
    • “I’m sorry” – women tend to say this a lot and it makes male colleagues believe they really have something to apologize for.  Use an alternative like “That’s too bad.”
  10. Avoid Up Talk (don’t finish a sentence as if a question – finish with lower intonation).

In conclusion, there are multiple links to sites that Kramer and Harris offer for quick and free self-assessments on various gender comparators. Three I recommend are:

Bem Sex Role Inventory:

Snyder Test for Self-Monitoring:

Duckworth Grit Scale: