Ultimate Guide to Understanding Gender Communications

research and draft compiled by Rabab Fatima

article written by Wayne Brown

Communication

The differences between males and females are quite vast in terms of how both groups interpret what is said and how they behave in certain situations. Treating both groups with the same attitude can be counterproductive.  

Each gender has its own unique way of thinking, acting and speaking. This causes a difference in the communication style. Discarding one gender based on their weaknesses is folly. Try to learn what makes them different and how best to utilize those differences within the organization.

“Gender equality is more than a goal in itself. It is a precondition for meeting the challenge of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development and building good governance”

Kofi Annan

Some of these gender differences are hard to handle which is why most executives just stick to what they know and treat everyone the same. Trying to understand these differences and overcoming the hurdles of male-female communication is what makes not only a good executive but also a good leader as well.

To analyze these differences in gender we need to look at how they are treated and what they are taught from an early age. Boys and girls are usually encouraged to mostly make friends from their own genders. This allows them to learn their gender norms, but it also creates a lack of understanding regarding the communication style of different genders.

The more this lack of contact with the other gender continues, the more the ignorance grows and before we know it, these gender norms have become a habit for us.  Breaking out of this habit, like every other habit, is hard work and requires discipline and dedication.

Before we move on, I would like to point out the fact that while these differences apply to the general population, there will always be some people who are different. That is why it is important to know and understand male and female cultural norms but also recognize that many people don’t fit the mold (Lieberman, 2016) [1].

The Non-verbal Differences…

We can never emphasize enough on the importance of nonverbal cues in communication. So let’s try to understand how it differs for each gender.

Facial Expressions

The human body is capable of expressing more than 10,000 facial expressions. Men usually use very few facial expressions and those expressions are quite easy to read. In comparison women use a very wide range of facial expressions, some obvious and some very subtle.

Women are the more emotionally expressive gender which is why their use of facial expressions and body language are a big part of their communication style.

Para-language

Para-language has to do with the non-lexical component of a conversation. This includes making sounds like “hmm” or “oh” or “ah” as well as the pitch, speed and gestures. The use of nodding heads and hand gestures are some good examples of para-language.

Men sparsely use para-language in their conversations; they prefer to get straight to the point with their words.

That’s not to say they never use this mode of communication. They often pat each other’s shoulders and usually greet others by shaking their hands. For women however, para-language is a big part of their way of communicating. They try to make eye contact and gestures that indicate their attentiveness to the conversation at hand.

Women do this much more frequently than men. Women also like to make direct eye contact with the other person as a way of making a more meaningful connection and creating a deeper relationship with the other person.

Men however, interpret direct eye contact as a challenge of position or power which causes more aggressive behavior towards one another.

Physical Space

Also known as personal space and it usually differs from person to person based upon their preferences. But there are some rules in how genders treat their physical space.

Women tend to be more comfortable around other women and have little problem sharing their personal space with them. They are more comfortable speaking with someone side-by-side. Men, however, prefer to have their conversations face-to-face.

They will often shake hands with others more frequently and generally allow friends, relatives and known associates easy access to their personal space. Just remember that each individual has their preference and you should try to learn those preferences since not everyone will react the same way.

The Approach…

Men and Women have vastly different approaches when it comes to behavior and attitude in the workplace. Some of these differences are due to personal habits and some are due to the effect of their respective sub-culture.

Gaining knowledge about these differences in attitude, communication and behavior will allow for a more thorough understanding about the psyche of the opposite gender. It will allow you to avoid common stereotypes and pitfalls of a conversation with the opposite sex.

Working with Others

Each gender has its own general way of dealing with their respective co-workers and tasks. While the approach may differ from person to person, there are some similarities within a gender regarding how they deal with their tasks.

Research has shown that men tend to be more aggressive in their way of handling situations and generally prefer to do things by themselves. Men tend to keep to themselves regarding any problems they might be facing as well. This aggressive technique is a way to one-up the others in the environment.

Women, on the other hand, like to build a good rapport with their co-workers. They accomplish this by sharing experiences with their co-workers and finding common grounds with them. Women try to focus on building relationships with others.

This aspect of their behavior is what makes women great social leaders. Women try to be more relationship oriented and accomplish tasks by building relationships first (Victoria C., 2017) [2].

Way of Processing

Men and women are ‘wired’ a little differently. This means that they also process and act on information a little differently as well. When men have to make decisions, they rarely ask for help and are usually a little more single-minded in their pursuit of a solution.

They tend to process internally to solve the problem. Women usually like to think out loud. It is their way of processing the information or making a decision. They evaluate their options by talking to others and getting feedback which is why women are considered more inclusive and open.

Directness…

Everyone likes to be heard but how they speak can have a big impact on the listener. Women in general try to be more supportive and constructive in the things they say which is why they tend to use tagged phrases such as “if you don’t mind” or “don’t you think” and other such phrases.

They try to soften their demands and statements so that their words can have a more positive effect. Men, on the other hand, are more direct. They like to get their point across without much hassle.

While this can be interpreted as rude, it is usually just a man’s way of communication. From their childhood to their adult life, men have very little need of trying to be subtle since their directness does not usually affect their relationships.

Communication Styles…

The communication style may differ from person to person but there are some similarities to be found in the same gender. These similarities are often exaggerated and labeled as stereotypes.

For example: Women usually nod their heads in a conversation as a way of showing that they are listening, not necessarily agreeing. This often leaves men with the impression that the women agree with what was being said and thus are surprised when a woman voices her disagreement later down the line. Thus leading to the stereotype that women are confusing in their way of conversations.

On the other hand, men usually nod when they agree with something. Some women look at this and think that the men are not paying attention or are bored with what she is saying. When, in reality, men just usually keep their body language neutral.

This can make women uncomfortable and causes them to repeat what their saying which is than misinterpreted as insecurity. Thus leading to the stereotype that men don’t listen.

The Effect…

These differences create a sort of workplace disparity. Giving false impressions that people then start to believe are true.
Like women are too emotional, or men only think selfish. These biases are what create workplace inequality and cause problems for organizations.

Issues like insensitivity/rude behavior or workplace hostility are a regular occurrence in organizations that are ignorant about how to handle gender biases and treat the opposite gender the same way that they treat their own gender.

Yes, there should be gender equality, but men and women are different from one another and to treat both groups the same way will often result in bad management.

Gender equality does not mean treating everyone the same, rather it means not making judgments/decisions based on the persons gender.

Recognizing these issues and working to remove such problems is what allows companies to realize and utilize the full potential of their workforce. Communication by itself is already a complex task due to all the nuances involved but adding gender differences to the mix takes the complexity to another level.

Male-Female communications are tough but understanding them should be a must-have skill for every executive. The purpose of gender communications is not to change another’s communication style but to understand and adapt to it (Point park University, 2017) [3].

 Tips and Advice…

All of the things mentioned above are general guidelines and behaviors of the genders but keep in mind that these two groups are comprised of individuals and every individual is unique!

Not everyone you meet will follow these same behaviors.  Some people might fit them to a “T”, others might follow a couple of them, and some might be the entire opposite of their genders.

“Genuine equality means not treating everyone the same, but attending equally to everyone’s different needs”

Terry Eagleton

Treating everyone the same is not the correct way to do things. Period. And even treating everyone from the same genders the same way you would treat everyone else from that gender is also not the right choice. Kind of complicates things doesn’t it?

Trying to find out the correct communication style with everyone is quite a huge task so I’ll leave you with some tips and tricks for the future. Whenever you meet someone new, always go in with a blank slate about them. Categorizing someone with a stereotype, especially one about their gender, is akin to putting on blinders.

You are essentially stopping yourself from seeing that persons full capabilities. Sometimes you might be subconsciously associating stereotypes to someone and not even know it, so always be aware.

If you’re talking to a person from the opposite sex, don’t be offended when they don’t do or do something that you would expect or not expect from your own gender. Remember what I said about unique individuals? Well the best way to learn how to communicate with them is to get to know them.

Get the information you need to build a rapport with them. There will be outliers in this world and chances are you might meet them somewhere in your career, so it’s best that you learn how to create a clear line of communication with them.

A good leader understands the strengths and weaknesses of his/her team and try to overcome them. Don’t be overwhelmed if you are faced with gender issues in your workplace. Organizing training sessions for your employees is also a suitable way of creating awareness about gender issues.

References…

[1]: Simma Lieberman, 2nd February 2016, Differences in Male and Female Communication Styles,

[2]: Victoria C.,29th June 2017, Gender Communication Differences and Strategies,

[3]: Point Park University, 12th December 2017, Gender Differences in Communication Styles,

Category: Comms 4 Execs

This continues our review of Leadership communication by exploring the differences between the female and male methods. Any wonder we get it so wrong some times?

NEXT UP: THE CORRELATION BETWEEN LEADERSHIP COMMUNICATION STYLES & EMPLOYEE SATISFACTION.

Until then, stay safe and healthy. Bye for now. Wayne