I’ll start with my usual health warning: understanding differences between the communication style of differing genders is not selling out; it’s not teaching you to behave like a bloke. I want nothing more than for women to be valued and respected for their own innate strengths and attributes. We had enough of padded shouldered trouser suits in the 80s. Time to do it our way in 2016! We know well enough that everyone benefits when there is true gender balance (see here for more about that). That doesn’t mean I don’t like the chaps, or wish to ‘do them down’. I don’t. I believe in true equality between the genders, however, that doesn’t mean just being the same, or everyone deciding that aping male behaviours is the way to go.
I do wish, however, to big up the women and fill them with confidence to go out there and be as wonderful as they can be!
Countless pieces of research tell us that we women show a lack of confidence when speaking up at work, when applying for promotion, or putting ourselves forward in the public domain. I think some of that is down to centuries of socialisation, some possibly to us being always benchmarked against men and not vice versa, and some is because we are working in a world designed by men, to suit men and which works well for men. Many men understand this. Some women still don’t and think any efforts to address this are demeaning and will mean they don’t get their jobs on merit. Having a policy of gender balance in place is not demeaning or offering ‘special help’, it’s redressing an imbalance.
In this series of posts about being gender bi lingual I’m sharing some of the observed and researched differences with you. Knowledge is power. Understanding why you sometimes feel a lack of confidence and appreciating some of the factors at play, will help you counteract it. In your own inimitable style.
So, to body language. Before we ever speak up we are giving out significant messages. Many moons ago, a chap called Professor Mehrabian identified that our messages have three distinct components to them (at least where emotions are concerned): One is the words we actually use, two is the tone of voice we say those words in, and three is what we look like when we are saying those words. Of the three the actual words count least for how a message is received. 10% in fact. How we look when we say this words has the biggest impact, with tone sitting in the middle.
Here’s some information to absorb:
- In a meeting, generally speaking, people assume men are the ones in authority.
- Height is equated with power.
- Deep voices travel further and are deemed authoritative.
- Men take up more space than women. They spread themselves out. The more confident and more senior, the more room they are likely to take up. Legs akimbo, papers spread across the desk.
- A woman wearing a jacket is thought to be of higher status than one not.
As women we are generally shorter than men, speak less deeply, and don’t usually sit with our legs wide open taking up more than our allotted space at the table. So a woman entering a meeting needs to establish her authority early on if people are going to pay attention.
We are schooled to be attentive listeners. I think that’s an attribute but the business world has not yet caught up with the power of being a good listener, it’s based around the more adversarial style of ‘men-speak’. There are certain things that we women do which men can subconsciously misinterpret and lead to us not being listened to with authority. They are:
- We lean forward
- We make lots of eye contact
- We shift our head about to signify listening, a little tilt to the side perhaps, as we absorb information?
- We are very noisy listeners and make noises
- We nod our head a lot.
Men tend to be impassive listeners. They do not give away many verbal cues. Thus, they can interpret women’s style of listening as being weak, inferior; they can see it as submissive as we practically make listening an Olympic sport with our nodding and appreciative noises. That’s a drawback for us as we can misinterpret the lack of verbal cues from men as not being interested. Not getting an obvious response may put us off our stride and lead to us not saying everything we want to say. We need to remind ourselves that men listen differently and not expect the same responses.
One very important difference to be aware of is that when a man nods his head, he is generally saying he agrees. When we nod ours we’re generally just being encouraging and saying we understand, do go on.
Next time you’re in a meeting watch out for these different behaviours. Notice the effect they have on you. Try not to judge, just notice and be aware. Try not to let it undermine your confidence in yourself and your abilities. Difference is good for business!
PS. Most of my coaching happens in house with businesses but I do have just 2 places available if you’re interested. More details are here. Plus, there is an audio course of Speak Up available which addresses the issues we’re talking about and helps you work out your best way of tackling it while still being true to you.
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Posted on February 2nd, 2016 by Jane