As women increasingly enter male-dominated professions, they should be aware of their male colleagues' communication styles and preferences to successfully position themselves in male work teams. The communication styles of men and women differ. The greatest difference can be seen in the purpose that men and women attach to communication. For men, communication serves to exert power and meet measurable goals. Women use communication to create social connections and bond with other individuals. Men's talk is instrumental, women's talk is expressive. Being aware of this major difference can help women make better sense of how their male colleagues communicate with them.
Identifying the Workplace Situation
In 1977, Rosabeth M. Kanter published the results of a large study she conducted on an American corporation. In her study, she found that the ratio of men to women matters in many ways for the interaction of employees. If women want to successfully improve gender communication in their workplace, they should be aware of its gender composition. For example, a female manager in charge of a group of men can actively work toward better communication by avoiding conversations about her private life.
Managing or Supervisory Positions
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Female managers have been described as having different characteristics than male managers. For example, in 1988 Jan Grant asserted that female managers put emphasis on affiliation, attachment, emotionality and cooperativeness, while male managers are typically associated with competitiveness, forcefulness and analytical thinking. Because female managers will likely be seen against a gender-stereotypical light, it matters how they communicate to subordinates or other managers. If the subordinates are mainly male, it will serve a woman well to communicate with them in a direct and straightforward way, telling them exactly what her expectations are and putting emphasis on goals and bottom lines.
Developing an understanding about how fellow employees communicate and interact is the first step to improved communication. In "Gender and Discourse," sociologists Shari Kendall and Deborah Tannen report that informal military, athletic and sexual language should be avoided by all staff members as it contributes to a subtle separation between men and women. If women work in a male-dominated workplace, they might have a hard time joining the informal cycles that are usually created. Researchers Mayta A. Caldwell and Letitia A. Peplan found early that women tend to focus on emotional sharing and talking, while men place emphasis on activities and creating joint activities. Thus to break the barrier and improve the flow of information and communication in general, women will fare better if they manage to adapt to their male colleagues' communication styles and topics.
Change Takes Time
Obviously, there are simple rules to follow when attempting to improve gender workplace communication. However, there is no guarantee that the first steps to actively improve communication in the workplace will be welcomed by colleagues. The opposite effect is quite likely. Therefore, it is crucial to stay encouraged and to keep in mind that communication between men and women in the professional setting is in part a reflection of societal gender roles. If existing communication patterns between men and women at the workplace are to be changed, you should be prepared to pursue this in a long-term effort.
- Men and Women of the Corporation; Rosabeth M. Kanter; Ph.D.
- Gender and Discourse; Ruth Wodak
- Organizational Dynamics: Women as Managers: What They Can Offer to Organizations
- Sex Roles: Sex Differences in Same-Sex Friendships
Dr. Andrea S. Dauber has been writing since 2008. Her areas of expertise are personal and career development. She has published everything from scholarly articles to book chapters. She holds a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Mainz, Germany. As a certified professional and career coach, she coaches clients and conducts workshops at universities.