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spike bullet March 2005 ó Male / Female Communication

General Rules
Communicating with your male co-workers
Communicating with the men that you supervise
Learning how to be heard
Resources (links, books, articles, humor)

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color bulletCommunicating with Men at Work: Bridging the Gap with Male Co-Workers and Employees

by Victoria Simon, Ph.D., and Holly Pedersen, Ph.D.

Ellen was near tears when she called for help.  She described that she had recently landed her "dream job" at a large marketing firm.

From day one, however, Ellen explained that the friction between herself and her co-worker, Marty, was sapping all the joy out of her new position.  Although they were supposed to collaborate together on projects, Ellen told us that this was nearly impossible because Marty was dismissive of her ideas and claimed credit for campaigns that were developed collaboratively.

The breaking point came during their last big project, during which Marty openly shot down Ellenís ideas and continually undermined her during team meetings.Angry woman

"I was so upset that I went straight to Marty and asked to speak with him privately!  I explained how I felt but I also empathized with what he might be feeling.  I took the time to try and show him the big picture of how things might feel different for both of us at work if we were able to cooperate more.  I feel so angry at how he acts and Iím worried that our boss canít see through his competitive behavior."

Any guesses about whether Ellenís conversation with Marty resolved or enflamed their conflict?  

Yup!  Bigger problems ahead for Ellen if she continues to make these communication mistakes with Marty and her other male co-workers and supervisees.  Weíve all heard about how different "Mars" and "Venus" are at home and we face similar challenges at work in terms of successful and productive communication between the sexes.

But donít despair . . . with a little education and a few simple communication tools under your belt, youíll be ready to climb all the way to the top of that corporate ladder.

General Rules

People are as different as fingerprints and many of us are loathe to generalize.  However, some generalizations are both appropriate and necessary.

Here is a very broad overview of communication styles of men vs. women:

  1. Men talk to give information or report.  Women talk to collect information or gain rapport.
  2. Men talk about things (business, sports, food).  Women talk about people.
  3. Men focus on facts, reason and logic.  Women focus on feelings, senses and meaning.
  4. Men thrive on competing and achieving.  Women thrive on harmony and relating.
  5. Men "know" by analyzing and figuring out.  Women "know" by intuiting.
  6. Men are more assertive.  Women are more cooperative.
  7. Men seek intellectual understanding.  Women are able to empathize.
  8. Men are focused, specific, logical.  Women are wholistic, organic and "wide-angle."
  9. Men are comfortable with order, rules and structure.  Women with fluidity.
  10. Men want to think.  Women want to feel.

Now, although many of these generalizations may not apply to you in particular, itís important to be aware of how differently most men and women communicate at work.

Certainly the same differences apply outside of the office as well, but they are often more pronounced at work where women are asked to fit into what is often a male-dominated environment and where there is typically less tolerance for the "female" communication styles listed above.

Communicating with your male co-workers

Remember Ellen?  After reading the list above of "general" male and female communication styles, is it easier to pick out her mistakes?

Here is a list of tips for communicating with your male co-workers since no one wants this kind of workplace drama!

1.   Donít communicate when youíre upset.
When your heart is pounding, your palms are sweaty, you feel flushed and/or your ears are ringing, productive communication is nearly impossible.

Take some deep breaths, slowly count to ten, close your eyes and visualize a peaceful scene in order to calm down before approaching your co-worker.

It may be recommended to wait an hour, an afternoon, or a day in order to ensure that your communication with your male colleague is calm, clear, and appropriate for your environment!

2.    Get to the point.
Too much extraneous detail will not make your male co-workers want to be on your team and you are likely to lose their attention along the way!

3.     Facts not feelings.
Remember men focus on facts and ó especially at work ó find feelings irrelevant to the conversation.  Save the "I feelÖ" descriptions for your girlfriends.

4,    Be careful of gossip.
Not only are your male co-workers less likely to be interested in gossip, but it can be dangerous and inappropriate at the workplace regardless of gender.

Trying to engage a male co-worker in the latest office rumor as a way to "connect" may unwittingly have the opposite effect!

5.     Instrumental vs. expressive.
Your male colleagues are likely to use communication to create solutions or to fix problems, rather than to express feelings or thoughts.

Remember this when you see their eyes glaze over as you air your thoughts and feelings on a subject!  Grab ó and keep ó their attention by focusing your communication on action, problem-solving and solutions.

6.    Hearing with your intellect not your emotions.
Regardless of what is being said to you, it is crucial in a workplace setting to put aside your emotional responses and to respond from an objective and rational ó rather than an emotional and reactionary ó position.

(You may need to re-read and apply rule #1 here.)

7.   Do not engage in power struggles.
Remember the phrase "Progress, not Victory" when faced with a power struggle.

Your goal is not to win, but to move the discussion toward a resolution that benefits the company/department/team. By remaining solution-focused, you will likely be able to disengage your co-worker from their competitive corner.

Communicating with the men that you supervise

1.    Forward communication.
By this we mean focusing the conversation on future actions and solutions rather than rehashing past mistakes.

2.    Instructions vs. suggestions.
It is important that women supervisors/managers clearly communicate when they are issuing an instruction.

Avoid ambiguous language that could be interpreted as a "suggestion" by your supervisee.

3.    Precise communication.
Donít leave any room for confusion or misinterpretation.

Be very specific about the how, what, where, and when.

4.    Action-oriented conversations.
Focus on actions rather than on feelings, people or extraneous details.

5.    Encourage the asking of questions.
Men are less likely to ask questions, which means it may be your job to encourage your male supervisee to ask any questions necessary.  

A simple, "Any questions about this?" will do.

6.    Cooperation vs. competition.
Because of their competitive nature, it is important in your role as a supervisor to recognize, acknowledge and praise a job well done.

We recommended that strong supervisors always encourage cooperation.  

However with the typically male focus on achievement, attention to success is critical.

7.    Understanding resistance.
When confronted with the resistance of a male employee, it is important to gain an understanding of where it is coming from.

Yes, it may be that he feels threatened, but itís also likely that as an analytical creature, he may need to look up the facts and check out the data.

Rather than pushing him to agree on the spot, encourage him to do his own research so that you can gain his support rather than his reluctant follow through.  (Remember: while resistance is natural and normal, as the boss you get to give the instructions at the end of the day!)

Learning how to be heard

So, does that mean that women need to make all the effort to change in order for them to be heard and understood in the workplace?Man and woman talking by a coffee pot

If both men and women share the same office space and contribute equally, why is it women who are the ones learning the new communication tools?

We have a couple of responses to this.

First, it largely depends on the industry youíre in or the type of work you do.  Any of you who work on the trading floor on Wall Street in New York City will likely have to make 100% effort to fit into this world. 

Our guess is that talking about "feelings" and explaining that you bought 10,000 shares of stock for your client based on "intuition" without looking at the numbers or data will not earn you a promotion.   

However, it is far more likely that at a non-profit organization or design house that men will be more flexible about different styles of communication.

Second, women (because of our natural tendency to empathize and cooperate) are far more open to acknowledging these different styles and learning to build the bridge.  If you work in an environment that allows for even some non-testosterone driven conversation, then your new communication tools will hopefully open the doors for both sexes to learn these skills and increase their communication flexibility.

And finally, like it or not, we women do have things to learn as there are some female communication traits that are simply not appropriate or productive at work!

Authors:  Victoria Simon, Ph.D.,CEO and Holly Pedersen, Ph.D., President of Talk Works, a communication and conflict-resolution training company located at 468 N. Camden Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90201. For more information call: (310) 860-5191  or visit 

World Wide Web graphic  Internet Resources

book graphic  Books   -  Disclosure: We get a small commission for purchases made via links to Amazon.

  • You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation. Deborah Tannen. Original 1990.  Quill; (July 24, 2001) ISBN: 0060959622
  • Brain Sex: The Real Difference Between Men & Women. Anne Moir and David Jessel. Lyle Stewart Division, Carol Publishing Group, Carol Communications Inc., 600 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10022. 1991.  Dell Books (Paperbacks); Reissue edition (January 1993) ISBN: 0385311834
  • Games Mother Never Taught You: Corporate Gamesmanship for Women. Betty Lehan Harragan. Warner Books. 1977 (a classic book for anyone who wants to understand corporate politics) ASIN: 0446344001 (a classic on corporate gameship)
  • Genderspeak: Men, Women, and the Gentle Art of Verbal Self≠Defense. Suzette Haden Elgin, Ph.D. John Wiley & Sons Inc., 605 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10158≠0012. 1993.  Suzette Elgin has written several books on communication. ISBN: 0471580163
  • Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In, Roger Fisher and William Ury, Penguin Books, New York, 1981 (small book but solid advice).  Penguin USA (Paper); 2nd edition (December 1991) ISBN: 0140157352
  • He & She Talk: How to Communicate with the Opposite Sex. Laurie Schloff and Marcia Yudkin. Plume; (August 1993) ISBN: 0452270669
  • He Says, She Says: Closing the Communication Gap Between the Sexes. Lilliam Glass. Perigee Books, Putnam Publishing Group, 200 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10016. 1993.   Judy Piatkus Publishers Ltd; (January 28, 1993) ASIN: 0749912006
  • Male & Female Realities: Understanding the Opposite Sex. Joe Tanenbaum. Tanenbaum Associates; (January 1990) ISBN: 0942523377 ("How everyone can win the battle of the sexes")
  • Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus: A Practical Guide for Improving Communication and Getting What You Want in a Relationship. John Gray. HarperCollins; (April 1993) ISBN: 006016848X
  • What to Say to Get What You Want: Strong Words for 44 Challenging Types of Bosses, Employees, Co-Workers, and Customers. Sam Deep and Lyle Sussman. Perseus Publishing; (January 1992) ISBN: 0201577127
  • Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High, Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler, Stephen R. Covey.  McGraw-Hill; (June 2002) ISBN: 0071401946

world wide web - articles  Articles

Related newsletter article:
    August 1997 - Improving verbal communications

smiley graphic  The Lighter Side  

Talk to a man about himself and he will listen for hours.  
Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881)

 When a woman is speaking to you,  listen to what she says with her eyes. 
Victor Hugo (1802-1885)

I can conceive of nothing worse than a man-governed world - except a woman-governed world. 
-- Nancy Astor (1879-1964),  ďAmerica,Ē My Two Countries

Good communication is as stimulating as black coffee, and just as hard to sleep after.
-- Anne Morrow Lindbergh

No one would talk much in society, if he knew how often he misunderstands others.
--  Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Today, communication itself is the problem.  We have become the world's first over-communicated society.  Each year we send more and receive less.
-- Al Ries

The more elaborate our means of communication, the less we communicate.
--  Joseph Priestley

Two monologues do not make a dialogue.
--  Jeff Daly

Electric communication will never be a substitute for the face of someone who with their soul encourages another person to be brave and true.
-- Charles Dickens

It's good to shut up sometimes.
-- Marcel Marceau

Kind words can be short and easy to speak but their echoes are truly endless.
-- Mother Teresa

Listening, not imitation, may be the sincerest form of flattery.
-- Dr. Joyce Brothers

You can have brilliant ideas, but if you can't get them across, your ideas won't get you anywhere.
-- Lee Iacocca

Who you are stands above you and speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson


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