Bridging the Workplace Gender Communication Gap

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Scenario 5: Emotional Exchanges

Her way: She tends to treat male colleagues like her husband or boyfriend.

His way: He often handles women associates like his wife or girlfriend.

The result: A subtle and tricky gender miscommunication. It's also one that people are loath to examine.

Typically, men and women bring into the office some version of the sexual dynamics they have at home. We also gravitate to workplace confidants, mentors or employees who resemble the intimates in our personal lives, especially spouses. That means you'll discover quieter struggles in business of whatever people's fights are about at home, such as who's right and who's wrong or disagreements about money.

Advice: If you're in some kind of standoff or you feel like he or she "doesn't understand" you, take a break to think it through. Make sure you're not importing a personal issue into a business environment.

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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