Management Matters: Successful Communication Needs Thoughtful Flexibility

Effective communication is the cornerstone of professional success. It is made up of talking, listening and asking good questions.

If only is was that easy.

There is plenty of well-researched as well as evidence that reveals that men and women communicate differently. To create successful communication, we all need to understand the culture and customs of our own gender as well as those of the opposite gender. The challenge is that both men and women think that the customs of the culture they grew up in are the right and best customs to follow.

Many of these customs or rules are invisible to us as adults. What we learned as children ( Boys: be aggressive, deal with conflict and competition in win/lose terms, be leaders, and take risks. Girls: be nice, avoid conflicts, build/preserve relationships, reduce risk, and be fair to all.) does have an impact on the way we communicate as adults in the workplace.

Women tend to use a more indirect form of speaking (“Don’t you think it would be a good idea to…?”, “I might be wrong, but…”) The result is that men tend to view women who speak this way as unsure of themselves. Men tend use a more direct way of speaking (Less questions, more assertions, direct verb forms such as “Can” or “Will”). The result is that women perceive men who speak that way as aggressive or authoritarian.

It’s not only speaking. There are also gender differences when it comes to how people listen. Women are perceived to be better listeners than men because they are pros at empathic listening. Women listen for two things: content and feeling. Men tend to listen for the verbal transcript and while they can repeat verbatim the primary points made by the speaker, they often miss the emotional part and are more goal and result oriented. They want to hear the end result and they are often eager to offer a solution and fix it for the person.

Minor Changes Can Produce Major Results
Flexibility is the key to effective and successful communication in all organizations. Both men and women must expand their communication strategies so that they can be effective under a wide range of circumstances.

Women can –

  • Learn to incorporate a direct style into their speech, using words such as “I”, “I want,” “I think,” “I believe”.

  • Know how to get to the point. Don’t beat around the bush. Eliminate unnecessary details if you are interacting with a man. Be concise.

  • Eliminate wishy-washy forms of speech: “kind of,” “sort of,” “maybe”.

  • State opinions and don’t express them in a question form.

  • Continue to share feelings but also state the facts clearly.

Men can –

  • Incorporate some indirect styles of speech when interacting with women. Rather than saying, “This is the way to handle the problem,” try, “One way we might handle this problem is…”
  • Ask a woman her perspective or opinion.

  • Make sure men and women equally share “air time.”

  • Openly express feelings and/or reactions.

  • Listen without feeling responsible for problem solving. Instead, offer understanding and empathy. Offer solutions and fixes only when asked. Ask a woman if she seeking your advice in solving a problem.

If you want to be more successful in your communication, think about not just what you want to communicate, but the person you are communicating to and the result you are after as a result of your interaction. Some customized consideration will go a long way to getting youa better result.

Joni Daniels is Principal of Daniels & Associates, a management training and development consulting practice that specializes in developing human resources in the areas of leadership and management training, interpersonal effectiveness and efficiency, skill- building, and organizational development interventions. With over 25 years of experience, she is a sought after resource for Fortune 500 clients, professional organizations, higher education, media outlets and business publications. Joni can be reached at

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