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He Said, She Said: Gender Differences

Examining gender differences in communication

He-said-she-saidMost of us don’t think a lot about communication. After all, we’ve been communicating since we were kids. As babies we learned about the world by listening. And we quickly learned to get what we wanted by crying.

We’ve been communicating as long as we can remember. It comes naturally.



Being an effective communicator doesn’t come naturally to most people. Too many things get in the way.

Some of the biggest obstacles to effective communication are cultural differences. In the United States, for example, we are taught to look people in the eye when speaking to them. It indicates interest and demonstrates confidence. However, in Japan direct eye contact can be considered rude.

Even within the same culture, gender differences often complicate the communication process. For instance, while we may collectively belong to a “Mainstream” American culture, each of us also is part of many co-cultures. In diversity studies, men and women often are considered two different co-cultures. Here are a few of their characteristics:

Women tend to:

  • Value collaboration, respect and loyalty
  • Emphasize “we” in their statements
  • Support and protect other members of the group
  • Rely on indirect and subtle messages
  • Believe that no one is inherently superior or inferior
  • Value interpersonal relationships

Men tend to:

  • Value rugged individuals who stand up for themselves
  • Emphasize “I” in their statements
  • Prefer being forceful and direct
  • Focus on verbal communication (words not body language)
  • Respect status and social hierarchies
  • Value assertiveness, competitiveness and success

These gender differences can have an impact on success in the workplace.

Studies indicate that men’s speech is considered forceful and assertive; women’s speech polite and respectful. This is one of the reasons men get taken more seriously in business situations. Being assertive isn’t easy, particularly for women.

While there is a fine line between being assertive and aggressive, women need to learn how to walk it. One way to speak more assertively is to eliminate qualifiers like “maybe” and “perhaps” from your conversation.

Drop “tag questions” from the end of your statements. For example, instead of saying, “I think we should hire a new graphic designer, don’t you?” say “I think we should hire a new graphic designer.”

Make a statement then bite your tongue. Adding tags like “don’t you?” at the end of a statement makes you seem uncertain and deferential. On the other hand, when men use these same qualifiers and tag questions are considered polite.

Women who want to be taken more seriously should think before they speak. Next time you’re sitting in a meeting, concentrate on dropping qualifiers and “tag questions” from your speech. State your ideas clearly. Being assertive will help you get people to actually listen to your ideas, not just hear what you say.

About Annette Richmond, MA

Annette Richmond, MA, CARW, CCELW, is a Certified Resume Writer, Certified LinkedIn Profile Writer, and former recruiter. Her career advice has been featured by Huffington Post, The Chicago Tribune, Forbes, Business Insider, Monster, Vault, and WSJ. She helps motivated, senior level professionals tell their unique career story. She also serves as executive editor of career-intelligence.com.


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