For career success, team collaboration and the ability to deliver business results, nothing is more vital than communication. Effective communication is essential—it’s the process that integrates the organization. For women in the workplace, being skilled in productive and assertive communication is especially critical to getting heard, gaining advantage and achieving goals. This begins with awareness and use of the three integral and interconnected components of communication—or the three V’s:
- Verbal—what you say; your words, phrasing and sentence structure.
- Vocal—how you say it; your tone of voice, volume, pitch and pace.
- Visual—your body language, facial expressions, gestures and overall appearance.
While stereotypes and gender assumptions should always be avoided, researchers in the fields of social science and psychology have identified differences in the way that women and men tend to deliver and process messages. For example, men may tend to be goal-driven, while women might be more relationship-driven. Also, in general, men perceive power as part of a role and hierarchy, while women understand power as something to be shared, and if overplayed, divisive and harmful to productive collaboration. Similarly, men might be more comfortable with conflict, leader-oriented and disposed to adopt a “take action” mindset, while women tend to avoid conflict, be more execution-oriented and be more inclined to discuss and consider the risk of major initiatives before forging ahead.
With these general differences in communication in mind, the leadership development experts at American Management Association (AMA) offer the following gender-savvy adjustments to help women become more assertive and productive when they are talking to men:
- Skip the small talk and don’t overdo the process talk. Get to the bottom line quickly and succinctly. Move to solutions and problem solving as soon as possible. Achieving results is the valued effect.
- Don’t try to get men to talk if they’re not ready. Remember, they process internally not externally as women do. Observe and listen. Rather than process out loud, do more internal processing. But don’t wait too long to contribute to the conversation.
- Offer advice with caution. For many men, asking for help is perceived as a sign of weakness. (Think about men not asking for directions when lost). When a woman offers to help, it may be inferred as a lack of trust in the man’s ability. Avoid saying, “Let me help you with ...” instead say, “If you do this part, I can do this part and it will be done.”
Of course, men can and should be ready to adapt their communication, as well. But the bottom line is, everyone, regardless of gender, needs to be aware of these communication differences and be willing to make adjustments. Here are a few rules of assertive and productive workplace communication for people of all genders to follow:
Verbal: Avoid accusations, name-calling, vague language and excessive jargon. Instead, use specific terms, clear and direct words, and benefits statements.
Vocal: Avoid raising your voice or speaking so low that others strain to hear. Maintain a normal, conversational speaking volume and moderate rate of speech. Use inflections to emphasize meaning.
Visual: Maintain an erect and comfortable posture, complemented by direct eye contact. Avoid distracting gestures. Respect the other person’s physical space. And smile appropriately.
Yes, consistently practicing productive and assertive communication in the workplace takes self- awareness, commitment and considerable effort. But the benefits are well worth the investment, especially for women in leadership positions.
American Management Association (AMA) is globally recognized as a leader in professional development. For nearly 100 years, it has helped millions of people bring about positive change in their performance in order to improve results. AMA’s learn-by-doing instructor-led methods, extensive content, and flexible learning formats are proven effective—and constantly evolve to meet the changing needs of individuals and organizations. To learn more, visit www.amanet.org.