Bridging the Workplace Gender Communication Gap

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Scenario 2: Picture Imperfect

Her way: Women frequently use anecdotes or illustrations about home or relationships.

His way: Men rely on metaphors about sports or war.

The result: Dialogue can hit a dead end. Women often do not follow the touchdown, full-court-press images and vice versa. One communications consultant hit just such a conversational wall during a sales pitch. She told a client that follow-up training would be "icing on the cake." "I envisioned icing as the finishing touch that completes the project and makes it most presentable to the receiver. But his perception of icing was of sweet, unnecessary, junky stuff that you scrape off." Needless to say, she didn't nail the deal.

Advice: Don't simply gender-reverse images to communicate. Instead, consider your audience and use gender-neutral images (nature, movies or weather come to mind). Or use images you like, but with an explanation of what you mean.

Have you ever had a meeting where you've thought you were being crystal clear with a coworker of the opposite gender, only to find out that you and your coworker are on completely different pages, maybe even different planets? According to "Work with Me: The 8 Blind Spots Between Men and Women in Business," by Barbara Annis and John Challenger (May 2013), 9 percent of men say they understand women, while 68 percent of women say they understand men. That's a big difference and an even bigger gap in understanding.

According to Joanna L. Krotz, The Woman's Playbook, women and men who work closely together often get tied up in communication knots, especially over issues that involve power, advocacy and managing the troops. That's because the sexes have distinct ways of communicating. It's been scientifically shown that the brains of men and women are hardwired differently. Men's brains are typically 10 percent larger than women's and tend to have stronger left-brain skills. Women, on the other hand, typically have more nerve cells in certain areas of the brain and have a larger corpus callosum (connecting the left and right sides of the brain). As a result, men are generally stronger at analytics and abstract concepts, while women are more intuitive, swifter to pick up on nonverbal cues and process information faster.

Hormones and cultural factors also heavily influence how men and women communicate. Women tend to be more people oriented and better at multitasking, while men are better at single-minded focus and top-down motivation, exchanging rewards for results. Male vs. female conversation objectives often differ, as well — for example, status vs. support, report talk vs. rapport talk, independence vs. intimacy, advice vs. understanding, and information vs. feelings.

In this slideshow, Krotz has identified six scenarios where communication between men and women frequently jumps the rails and provides tips for getting back on track.

 

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