STRATEGIES FOR BRIDGING THE GENDER COMMUNICATION GAP

Regardless of your gender, where does your communication fall on the spectrum? In general, how does your style of communication lend itself to building interpersonal rapport and dealing with conflict?

While internalized and external systems of sexism can definitely create obstacles in the ways we choose to communicate with each other, a leader that values and leverages diversity always makes the intentional choice to create an environment in which all perspectives and styles across the gender continuum are seen as valuable and valid. In examining where on the spectrum we tend to fall (and, of course, some men may identify with a more “female-oriented” approach to communication, while some women will naturally fall into a more “male-oriented” style), we can identify where we might choose to stretch ourselves and grow. Here are some suggestions for how we might begin to bridge the gap between male-oriented and female-oriented modes of communication:

Information gathering. According to S. L. Beckwith (as cited in Krotz, 2010), “Women gather information by asking questions, but men view question-asking as a sign of weakness” (para. 10). As it is perceived that people with a more male-oriented style of communication need to understand this information-gathering process and listen to others’ questions. Those with a more female-oriented style must be sure that team members have adequate information, because if they do not understand, they may not ask for help.

The following are a few examples of female-oriented compared to male-oriented communication styles:

·      Managing metaphors. People with a female-oriented communication style frequently use stories or illustrations about their home or relationships. Male-oriented communicators tend to rely on metaphors around such topics as sports or war. This sets the stage for miscommunication.

·      Power struggles. People with a female-oriented approach tend to be more cooperative, focusing on relationships and shared power. However, male-oriented communicators tend to be more assertive and focus on rank and status in an organization. People with a more female-oriented approach may see male-oriented communicators as being too focused on power, whereas male-oriented communicators may see female-oriented communicators as being too passive. In this case, each style can learn from the other. A collaborative and assertive approach can be effective in managing strained power dynamics and misperceptions.

·      Getting to the point. People with a female style like to tell and hear stories. It is their way of connecting and building relationships. Those with a male style customarily do not want stories; they just want to get to the point. This can lead to impatience in communicating and subsequent misunderstanding. Female-oriented communicators push for details while male-oriented communicators look for the big-picture message. Each style can benefit from the other’s approach.

·      Facts and feelings. Female-oriented communicators are generally more comfortable talking about their feelings. People with a more male-oriented approach prefer to focus on the facts and skip the emotions, which can result in significant communication problems. Every type of communication has both an intellectual and an emotional element. For example, someone with a male style can increase the feeling quotient by making this type of statement: “I know this project has been very stressful for you. Let’s talk about ways to manage the difficulties we’re facing.” Someone with a more female style can dim the emotional intensity by saying: “I think we need to discuss the major issues blocking the implementation of the new plan.”

Creating gender communication harmony

Experts and researchers are just beginning to understand how gender differences can be utilized in business. Although many traditional work environments associate masculine values and traits with success, both genders generally display specific strengths in the workplace.

A 2005 study on gender bias discovered that women leaders tend to be more supportive of their team members and offer more incentives; men in similar positions tend to be more effective at delegating and managing up. Women are capable of reading situations with a greater level of accuracy and collecting information from different sources, which can help them build rapport with colleagues. Men tend to be stronger when it comes to negotiating such things as raises and promotions, and seeking mentors in high places. Women tend to be honest, hard workers who are willing to take on more challenges and longer work hours than their male counterparts. However, men are generally more confident than women in performance-oriented settings and tend to trust their instincts and creativity more.

Of course, teams need not be composed of 50% women and 50% men in order for a work environment to be balanced, as most people display both traditionally male and traditionally female characteristics. However, paying close attention to gender differences will help untangle knots and tangles in communication. This will not only help to promote a more efficient and productive workplace, but also create a more positive and collaborative atmosphere in which we can freely navigate differences by stretching ourselves to adopt characteristics of each communication style. At the end of the day, contrary to style, male-oriented or female-oriented contributes value in our society, family, and workplace.

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