Do You Do Need Another Language at Work?

Last week end my son had his pre-wedding stag do. It wasn’t a riotous affair; he loves to talk and have fun with his mates so a lot of that went on. It even included me on the Sunday when the very male gathering came to for lunch, along with my Mother and his fiancée.

As I sat at the table with a big grin on my face (I love having the ‘yoof’ around) I was struck again by the differences in how men and women talk to each other. Men are generally very comfortable with a competitive, faux aggressive style of talking and are continually mocking and insulting each other.  Hence the ‘Your jokes are the worst in the world- ever‘ thrown at my son, ribald comments about another’s biceps, scape-goating another for being a lamb with his partner and so it goes on.

It is all done with good humour and it makes me laugh. I’ve seen it at work too. Two male colleagues greet each other with:

Hello Bern, blimey is that a penalty spot I see?” Or ” I hear you lost dramatically at golf the other day, and to Sanjiv of all people. He’s a beginner. You must really be bad”

And don’t get me started on the banter that goes on in the fire service (husband is a fire-fighter, I’ve heard it all)

It doesn’t mean they don’t care about each other or respect each other. It is a form of one one-upmanship though, as they compete to gain status. They’ve been doing it most of their lives, just watch the playground games.

Women’s Talk

Of course it happens, but it’s pretty rare for two women to greet each other with an insult:

Hello Jane, good grief, you’ve aged and have you put on weight?” (Yes is the honest answer but we’ll gloss over that!)

We’re much more likely to try to find a common point of interest “Nice bag, where did you get it?” If we women start bandying insults about it tends to mean we’re having a fight! Not bonding.

Which might well be a problem for us if our workplace has a very male culture, and a male hierarchy. We might not talk their language. Or we might try to and get it wrong, or feel uncomfortable. We might get accused of being humourless, or touchy. Or we might just absent ourselves from places where those sorts of conversations happen and that might be bad for our careers.

If you’ve been brought up around boys (like me, two brothers, no sister) or have spent a lot of time in male company this probably doesn’t faze you at all. But if you haven’t it can make you feel at a distinct disadvantage. It’s one of the reasons why, if we’re to have to have gender equality in the workplace, organisations need to understand the subtle barriers to women’s advancement as well as the very obvious ones which are placed in women’s way.

What do you think?

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Take a look at Why Can’ Women Speak their Minds in the Boardroom? for some interesting research from Dr Judith Baxter



Posted on April 18th, 2012 by

2 Responses to “Do You Do Need Another Language at Work?”

  1. Great observations Jane one of those subjects that we don’t even notice most of the time, I like you, have been in a male environment in different ways over the years, so see the difference and not fazed but sometimes amazed by it 🙂

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