Gender Differences: Workplace Communication Styles
In our personal lives it may be easier to distinguish the ways in which men and women have communication style difference; however, it seems that these differences are less considered in the workplace if we are not mindful that they exist. To do an effective job of communicating, it is important to keep in mind the gender-related nuances that exist. In exploration of the ways in which the communication styles differ, we’ll take a look at socialization and spatial differences. It is important to note that no one always uses the style that is typically associated with their gender; however, the research and literature indicates that some general characteristics are consistently observable. It is not a matter of a “right” or “wrong” way to communicate; it is more about the differences and what simply are the predominant gender-related styles.
It is of great importance to remember when exploring the topics in this article and when using the information presented in your work setting that these are the typical gender-related styles and you will assuredly encounter atypical individuals.
Young boys are socialized to give an immediate answer or a solution to a problem, while young girls want answers, too, but tend to talk things over to solve problems. This correlates to women in the workplace initiating and maintaining discussions, while a man in the workplace is more likely to have an initial reaction of supplying an answer. In a work setting, this difference can strain relationships if we are unaware of it as a communication style as opposed to as an individualized personality trait.
There are ways to ensure that we regard these communication styles with respect and honor our differences; it is suggested that we make statements and ask questions about the other’s intended purpose is communicating. Establishing if there is an answered being sought; if a suggestion is needed, and if one wishes to discuss and explore multiple options or approaches is a key way to respect and honor gender difference in communication styles.
Direct and Indirect Communication Styles
In looking at the socialization of the female and male, we see that women are taught to nurture relationships and work out any issues and problems with concern to interpersonal communication as soon as they arise. Men, on the other hand are not as eager to find immediate resolution, but the disagreement or issue does not spill into other areas of their work relationship with the person or people that the issue or problem area is concerning. This manifests in the workplace as direct or indirect communication styles. The approaches are different according to gender depending on the contextual nature of what must be resolved. If the area of concern is interpersonal in nature women will approach with a direct communication style that includes initiating conversations and asking questions. Men will avoid resolution of the issue by approaching directly, and will indirectly resolve in some cases by the passage of time or with simple statement that denotes that “everything is fine now.”
Another result of socialization appears in our body language. Men are generally more comfortable speaking “shoulder-to-shoulder,” while in contrast women tend to talk “face-to-face.” Spatial preferences differ by gender, with men maintaining greater distances than women. Women will allow for closer physical proximity to other women, as well as men and will have a greater tolerance for temporary invasions of their own personal space. With this knowledge we can adapt our spatial communication style to that of the gender we are speaking to, with the caveat that not everyone of a gender will have a preference for the presumed gender-related preference.
Strategic communication means that we would need to be mindful of the behaviors and communication preferences of others with these gender-related empirical research data in mind and have a plan to how best to go about approaching these nuances. This could take the form of arranging a conference table with moveable chairs to respect personal boundaries established by gender and individuality of those we are working with. Co-workers need to be aware of intruding into other’s space without an invitation; being aware that there are boundaries with far-reaching implications. These implications may include the gender, power and authority, gender and socialization, and gender and body language.