Are we talking the same language – Women and Communication at Work

The styles that men and women use to communicate have been described as “debate vs. relate”, “report vs. rapport, or “competitive vs. cooperative”. Men often seek straightforward solutions to problems and useful advice whereas women tend to try and establish intimacy by discussing problems and showing concern and empathy in order to reinforce relationships. Men focus more on trying to prove themselves to be better than the others in the group, while women want to make sure no one feels left out.

Some of these gender traits inculcated by the socialisation process show up in the issues faced by women in the corporate world. It has taken generations of struggle for women to come out of their homes and work at par with the men in this man’s world. Years into the feminist quantum leap, age old stereotype still prevails – if we women assert ourselves forcefully, people perceive us as feminist, triggering a backlash. If we are softer, we aren’t seen as strong leaders. But to climb the ladder women have to navigate this “double-bind”.

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Sheryl Sandberg, COO, Facebook says “Companies structure their workers’ days around the expectation that someone else is handling the home front. Men have welcomed women into the workplace, but housework, cooking and child-rearing duties are still borne largely by women”.

Women have an intrinsic drive to prove themselves at all fronts. While they are constantly trying to make a mark at the professional front, without making an impression of being held back by family/ children in any way, they are also making all efforts to become the perfect homemaker. This balancing act puts immense pressure on our minds and ability to focus on professionally rewarding way of handling ourselves in the corporate world.

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Recently I attended a webinar on Dos and Donts of communication by women in leadership positions. Most of it applies to both the genders, but it has to be re-iterated for women to overcome impact of the long drawn socialisation process.

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  • Sincerity is a trait which can easily disarm people. We can make our sincerity speak for us.
  • Listening and Learning from others builds mutual respect in the minds of co-workers.
  • When disagreement goes too far, it is ideal to take a break before re-engaging.
  • Being respected and liked may not always come together. Some times to be respected, one has to take measures which makes them less popular. It is important to choose.
  • To neutralise a conflict situation, taking personal accountability works very well.
  • Be true to your beliefs, stating them sincerely and non-judgmentally
  • Put yourself in others’ shoes and respond from that position
  • Ensure people feel heard before moving forward
  • A difficult situation unaddressed can become a major problem at the later stage. Sorting it out however time consuming it may get is the most professional way to navigate through.
  • Good work always gets recognised eventually, though instant gratification is a rarity. Expectation for instant gratification can mostly lead to de-motivation.
  • Instant reaction is a strict no-no, one has to think/plan the response so that it is well thought over.
  • Not everyone around has ill intentions. Never start with a negative approach.

Most of these come very handy while dealing with difficult/conflict situations, which is faced on a regular basis by individuals in leadership positions.

I remember reading in an interview of Ms. Dorner, the chief executive of HSBC USA, where she said women on Wall Street need to advocate more forcefully for themselves. Women often don’t get what they want because we simply don’t ask for it. We need to realize that asking the right questions does matter; after all you have to make people notice you. If you don’t say something, you will cease to exist. Don’t wait to be tapped on the shoulder and be ashamed to discuss your achievements; it’s like hoping for a miracle.

To have more women in the leadership positions, women ought to master the art of ‘Power Dynamics’. We need to stop waiting for our good work to be rewarded, while men use their influence and power play to get ahead.

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Moreover women need to stop over-thinking, over-reacting and also over apologising. This worrying syndrome makes one paralyzed and unable to make decisions.

I understand tackling these issues could be tough. It requires a seismic shift in underlying beliefs and behaviours. However, I still hope for a world where half of our countries and companies are run by women.

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