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Say It Like You Mean It: How to Communicate Effectively at Work

Women SpeakingGuest contributed by Desiree Simons

You’ve worked hard to get where you are. You’ve earned your success because you’re not afraid of hard work. However, sometimes communicating with your male colleagues can seem like trying to put a puzzle together without all the pieces. The good news? There are skills you can learn that will help.

Most experts agree that women and men communicate differently but are quick to point out that one style is not better than the other. Diverse gender skill sets contribute to a better workplace, but adaptability, and knowing when to use a different approach can be a game changer for everybody.

Get to the Point

Women tell more backstory and narrative before getting to the point. Sometimes retelling how you got from point A to point B is not needed. Backstory is redundant if colleagues are familiar with the project.

Women also hedge and use qualifiers when speaking. For example, “Do you think, what if we, have you considered?” We are raised to be polite, but if something is not a question, don’t’ make it sound like a question. Instead of saying, “Would you mind, or Could you…” Instead say, “I’ll need that by… or Let’s plan for…” Men are used to speaking more directly. “We must….”, It’s important to understand…, and I’ll go over the final section…”

Beth Levine, SmartMouth Communications consultant and author of Jock Talk: 5 Communication Principles for Leaders as Exemplified by Legends of the Sports World, calls this “diminishing language,” and believes it causes peers (both male and female) to see women as less confident. Know your main idea and state it quickly to your listener. Some experts suggest creating bullet points in your mind before you go into a meeting. Stay clear of “tag language,” such as, “Isn’t it? Don’t you think? or Don’t you agree?” at the end of your statements. Levine also says women use the phrase, “I feel” too much at work. For example, “I don’t feel right about the proposed expansion.” Men typically say, “I think the proposed expansion will cause the following problems.” Say what you think, not what you feel.

Stand Your Ground

According to Danielle Lindner, adjunct professor of the Psychology of Women courses at Stetson University, “Women are socialized to be harmonizers and peacemakers.” They sometimes compromise rather than standing firm during a potential conflict situation. Standing your ground may result in not being liked by some co-workers, but Linda Henman, Ph.D., author of Challenge the Ordinary and Landing in the Executive Chair says, sometimes you have to forget about being liked. “Results, not harmony is the goal.”

Speak up in meetings, even if you risk being wrong. If people behave badly towards you, don’t assume it’s because you’re a woman. Don’t take a disagreement personally. Put it behind you and look for the next opportunity to showcase your skills.

Play to Your Strengths

Patricia Rossman, Chief Diversity Officer of BASF, a 100-year-old global chemical company acknowledges different gender communication styles but stresses the need for diversity and believes woman bring a unique and valuable skill set to the workplace.
Women tend to have a collaborative rather than a competitive approach to problem solving, as well as a kind of “emotional intelligence.” Rossman defines this as “looking for the deeper impact,” of interactions, decisions, and discussions. Others refer to it as a relational approach. Whatever you want to call it, women tend to be good at looking at the bigger picture.

Women also use and interpret nonverbal communication more than men. Noticing things like eye contact, body language, facial expressions… allow women to pick up vital clues.

The bottom line is simple. Be yourself but remember the most effective communicators know a variety of strategies and choose the best one for a given situation. If you do this, you’ll always say what you mean and mean what you say.