4 Mar 2008

Adam versus Eve




The upcoming International Women’s Day, March 8, got me thinking about gender communications. Some academics argue that gender communications qualify as a form of cross-cultural communications, lending credence to the idea behind the title of John Gray’s bestselling book, “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus.”

It’s widely accepted that there is a gender gap when it comes to the communication styles of the sexes. Just consider the stereotypical non-verbal communication differences between the overbearing body language of an alpha male (familiar to anyone who has ever experienced a bone crushing handshake), versus women who sit demurely with their legs and hands neatly folded. Women are renowned for taking up less personal space because taking up less ‘territory’ is characteristic of those with less power and status.

The differences aren’t problematic, but it does pay to be aware of them and how these differences can be misinterpreted. Here are a few that come to mind:

- Women use more questions in conversation, e.g. to stimulate discussion or seek information (or in my case, deciding what to order from the menu). This can be perceived as not having a handle on the topic, but many women regard this as “getting all the facts.”

- Men interrupt more and employ direct language. Women typically allow more interruptions, possibly as a way to ensure a wide variety of views are canvassed. This is not because they can’t steer a conversation, but it’s a tool to help build consensus decision making.

- Women will typically say “I believe” whereas men will say ‘”I think.” “I think” conveys more authority and conviction and women would do well to use this language rather than appear dithering.

- Women tend to employ more smiling and nodding when listening. Don’t assume this blithely means they are going along with whatever they are told. It’s simply a mechanism to make them appear engaged, and sometimes encourage the speaker to make their point.

The Gender Communications Quiz from the Georgia Department of Education explores some of the most common differences and if you’ve got a spare five minutes, please take a look.

1 comment:

CJG blog team said...

A woman I know decided before an job interview to say "I" instead of "we" when describing her present position.

The person who interviewed her asked in the end if she were the only one working at her present job...

/Helle