Gender Speak in the Office

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Speak up for yourself if you are interrupted and avoid apologizing if you are not wrong. Men don’t understand that you are trying to be polite; they believe you are wrong, and this can cause undue damage to your career.

Men are from Mars. Women are from Venus. Men don’t cry. Women cry too much. Men don’t ask for directions. Women can’t read street maps.

We’ve heard these clichés for a long time. But do they hold any scientific proof?

Aside from obvious physical differences, research has shown that women and men do indeed have different brain processes that affect communication styles, widely known as “Gender Speak.”

Of course, little boys and girls grow up in different worlds, so to speak. Our culture is hardwired to treat us certain ways, and to expect “typical” behavior, right from the start. Think dolls and guns.

But as we age and enter the workforce, problems surely arise, and companies today are learning that gender conflict can end up costing millions of dollars in discrimination lawsuits, not to mention the daily conflict among men and women who don’t understand each other.

Becoming “gender diverse” is as important as any cultural diversity training in an organization. It helps to understand typical female and male behavior within organizations. In general, men prefer structure, delegation, constructive criticism, organized plans, winning and showcasing their best attributes. Women wait for accolades, would rather “do it myself if I want it done,” are sensitive to criticism, expect lower personal performance and downplay their strengths.

Also typical of male behavior is staying calm under pressure, not holding onto grudges, exhibiting high self-worth, and doing whatever is necessary to impress the boss. Women tend to express more emotion under pressure, hold grudges, lack self-worth, and wait around hoping the boss takes notice. These differences certainly do not showcase one gender over another, but only serve to point out that communication problems will occur between a man and a woman who don’t understand each other.

Thankfully, there are ways to improve communication. It is important to learn the differences, and one of the most important is that of the brain. John Gray, author of Mars and Venus at Work, explains, “A woman’s brain has billions of neuro-connectors between her feeling area and the talk center. In a sense, she has superhighways connecting what she feels to what she says. But when a man attempts to put his feelings into words, he needs to think first about what he wants to say. For him to express his feelings verbally, there are no freeways, and he has to take winding back roads. First, he feels something, then he wants to do something about it. In analyzing the emotion, he decides if it’s useful to talk it through. He then has to move over to the left side of the brain and begin formulating the words for those thoughts. After he talks and new feelings surface, the whole process starts over. This is hard for a woman to understand because she tends to feel, talk and think all at the same time.”

The male brain isn’t wired to do many things at one time, otherwise known as multi-tasking, something that comes more naturally to women. If you understand this, then you can simplify your requests at work. Instead of asking for multiple items, break them down into a list, a more organized approach that men prefer. Talk in facts, since he can’t process opinion or excess thoughts. And remember, when you ask a man for help with a problem, leave him some quiet time to come up with an answer. You will get it faster with less distraction.

Another strategy for women is to separate your feelings from business. Men don’t understand why their criticism is so personal to women. It’s hard for men to give constructive advice to women because men give and take it from each other all the time without sensitivity. But with a woman, it comes across the wrong way, since women are more sensitive about it. If you know this, it becomes easier to shrug it off and move on.

Be sure to craft your words with care. Men simply can’t handle emotions as well as women in the workplace, so try to think logically and sound definitive. Speak up for yourself if you are interrupted and avoid apologizing if you are not wrong. Men don’t understand that you are trying to be polite; they believe you are wrong, and this can cause undue damage to your career. The same goes for gestures that may make you look weak, such as grinning at inappropriate times, sitting too rigidly or talking to take up silent pauses.

And this isn’t to pick on women; there are multiple examples and tips for men to improve their communication with women in the workplace, too!

Becoming aware of gender differences and instituting training programs within organizations will create a new modern culture in which men and women enjoy working together. After all, isn’t that what everyone wants? Companies will have an easier time recruiting top talent, retaining them and promoting them, which in turn results in higher profits and happier workplaces.