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Guide to Differences in Gender Communication Styles

written by: Sylvia Cochran•edited by: Ronda Bowen•updated: 8/9/2010

Whether in the home office or the multinational corporation, differences in gender communication styles greatly affect style and quality of teamwork. Understanding the differences and recognizing how to communicate in spite of gender barriers makes it possible to prevent miscommunication.

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    General Communication Styles Inventory

    The differences in gender communication styles become obvious when comparing and contrasting verbal as well as non-verbal contact methods. Components of verbal communication include:

    • Word choice
    • Tone of voice
    • Modulation
    • Duration of a conversation.

    With respect to non-verbal communication, gender and communication differences become obvious when observing:

    • Eye contact
    • Gestures
    • Use of facial expressions
    • Speakers’ postures and distance.
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    General Gender Communication Differences

    “Transactional Model of Communication When comparing a relationship and a basic communication book with respect to gender differences in communication, experts from the SUNY College at Oneonta(1) noticed a general consensus that allows for some basic generalizations. For example, men equate conversations with power plays during which they seek to win and maintain their independence; women perceive conversations are means for getting closer and forming a more interdependent relationship.

    Although men generally chafe at the prospect of taking orders -- while nevertheless preferring a clear delineation of hierarchy -- women will accept orders if they serve the overall goal of creating greater interdependence and allowing all parties to have a similar footing. In the final analysis, men communicate to pass on information or “fix" situations while women tend to communicate mainly to connect and interact.

    It does not take countless articles on the effects of gender and culture on communication to recognize that in a home office or any other business environment these communication styles tend to clash. Not surprisingly, some men have difficulties working for women in positions of management or even as sole business owners negotiating on their own behalf.

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    Making Styles of Communication Work in the Business Environment

    The Agency of Healthcare Research and Quality(2) at the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services recognizes that gender has the power to bar effective inter-professional communication and also efforts at team work in the workplace. Overcoming this obstacle may be as simple as following a five-step approach that both genders can follow to minimize problems when relating:

    1. Clearly describe the situation at hand
    2. Narrowly define the hands-on action to take
    3. Explain the main reason why doing so is beneficial
    4. Expand to name other areas that may require future but not immediate attention
    5. Verify consent by actively pursuing a verbal response that indicates either assent, dissent, or questions

    It may appear as though women following this general blueprint must alter their gender-defined communication methodology to more closely mimic a male pattern. While this appears true at face value, remember that women in positions of management or business ownership nevertheless pepper their wording with what NASA diversity training(3) denotes as “tag lines," such as “if you don’t mind" or “don’t you think," which underscores their uniqueness in conversing. Thus, a closer alignment in conversing actually is a two-way street, as men must not confuse these tag lines with sentiments negating hierarchy.

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    There is little doubt that differences in gender communication styles color all interactions between women and men, in some cases to the detriment of one or the other. Only if both genders are willing to overcome stereotyping is it possible to prevent snafus in any kind of business environment.

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    Sources

    1. http://employees.oneonta.edu/vomsaaw/w/psy257/handouts/gender_diffs_in_communication.htm
    2. http://www.ahrq.gov/qual/nurseshdbk/docs/O%27DanielM_TWC.pdf
    3. http://fpd.gsfc.nasa.gov/diversity/He_Said_She_Said.pdf

    Photo Credit: “Transactional Model of Communication" by JasonSWrench/Wikimedia Commons at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Smcr.jpg