Monday, May 19, 2008

Personal Development: Communication


Understanding how men and women communicate will help you to read interactions in the workplace and adjust your style.

Talking is the strongest negotiation tool you have and yet it can lead to an incredible amount of misunderstanding. You may get frustrated at why communication can be so difficult, especially when the parties involved speak a common language. But there's the problem right there - they don't. The words are the same but how they are perceived and received can vary from individual to individual.

The way people communicate is a learned social behaviour. And just as everyone has a different personality, there are different nuances in your linguistic style - the way you send and receive messages. Your characteristic speaking pattern can differ in how direct or indirect you are, your pacing, pauses, word choice and the way you use jokes, anecdotes, questions and apologies.

Men versus women

The main differences come in the form of the different linguistic styles between the sexes. Here are some differences:

Women - Focus more on rapport
Men - Concerned with status

Women - socialise in small groups, talk more & focus on equality
Men - socialise in larger groups with unequal standing. They display position & knowledge

Women - Play down their individual strengths to be accepted
Men - Minimise their weaknesses

These linguistic characteristics follow them into the workplace, schools and influence how they communicate and perceive communication with their peers/colleagues.

Lets see how specific methods of communication are used and interpreted differently between the sexes and it may be clearer why certain relationships play out for you the way they do.


How you ask questions depends on the situation:

Women - View questions as a sign of interest
Men - View this as "losing face", hence the reason why they are less likely to ask for direction
Men - Form negative opinions of people when asked questions in situations they would not


Women - "I'm sorry", to express sympathy
Men - "I'm sorry" to mean its meaning literally


When people invite comments by asking such questions as "How do you think I did?" they could be in for criticism instead of the expected compliment.

Women - After giving a compliment, expect one in return through rapport-building
Men - Recognise this as coming from a status standpoint, less likely to put in vulnerable position


Women - More indirect when giving orders
Men - Direct about admitting faults ("nan ren da zhang fu" - in chinese)


The ways of giving and interpreting feedback are polar opposites between the two sexes.

Women - Tend to soften the impact of negative feedback by complimenting good behaviour first
Men - First points raised most important; view negative criticism as an afterthought

Getting credit

Women - downplay their strengths; perceived by men as lack of self confidence if women do not want to take credit for their actions

Men - More comfortable at blowing their own trumpets, going back again to their play behaviour as boys and the need to establish status


Understanding how your colleagues communicate and how they are really saying will make it possible for you to better read interactions and to adjust your own style to bring about the desired outcome. This is a communication skill that can be learnt and practised to enhance internal and external corporate communications.

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