How Women Can Talk to Men at Work So They'll Listen
Imagine a room with two people giving presentations on a problem the company is trying to solve. Here's how a man and a woman might introduce their plan to the group:
He: "I have two solutions to this problem. The first is..."
She: "I know that all of us feel uncomfortable with this project, and don't trust the numbers we see. I've worked for a long time on coming up with a solution, and I'd like to share it with you."
The man's intro is to the point. The woman's has a roundabout way of getting to the point after acknowledging that people are uncomfortable being there to discuss it. Men in the audience may fall asleep by the time she gets to the solution, and women might want to know more about how hard she worked to reach her conclusion.
Get to the point
For a woman to be successful in talking to men in business, she has to blend the male and female ways of communicating, according to 'Code Switching: How to Talk so Men Will Listen,' a new book by Claire Damken Brown and Audrey Nelson. Women tend to use indirect compound forms of speech -- long sentences -- that won't get the cooperation of their co-workers.
Women tend to want to give the whole story and build a relationship. Men are more direct. For example, in walking into a meeting room, here's how the sexes might ask someone to close a door:
He: John, please close the door.
She: Gosh, does it feel kind of chilly in here? I wonder if maybe the air vent outside the room is blowing a little bit too hard? John, could you please close the door?
Those are extreme examples, and the best way for a woman to get around trying to make everyone happy is to not ask it like a man would, but to amend her method with the directness of a man, Nelson said in a phone interview with AOL Jobs. "John, could you please close the door?"
The book has a list of 10 wishy-washy words, many leading to the fact, according to the authors, that women tend to apologize more than men:
- Kind of
- Sort of
- Ish (as in 50ish)
- Little bit
The point isn't for a woman to talk like a man -- women and men hate women who talk like men, Nelson said -- but to get to the point and still humanize the discussion. It's like trying to speak a foreign language in a foreign country -- everyone appreciates the effort.
"Women are really good at facilitating and bringing people together," Nelson said.
"Most men are strictly focused on the content dimension of a message," she added.
Women are already a notch down in credibility because of the gender gap, which is evident in fewer female CEOs and being paid 78 cents for every dollar a man earns, Nelson said. Communicating on a man's level will help them succeed at work.
One way for women to do that when talking with a man is to give him a short, direct answer to a question, Brown said. If he wants more information he'll ask for it.
More strategies to employ
Here are some other tips from the book on how a woman can get a man to listen to her at work:
- Be the first to speak. It's a bold act that commands attention. You have the opportunity to set the tone of the interaction and meeting. People will be more likely to sit up and take notice.
- Don't sound like you're begging. Occasionally use a "please" or "thank you" when making a request.
- Use profanity rarely. Men may use it often at work, but be cautious when you use it, and use it rarely so that it packs a punch when you do use it.
- Don't take it personally when he interrupts. It's part of the way he talks with his friends. But be ready to direct the discussion back to you and your topic. Or keep talking when he jumps in a conversation.
- Consistently offer your hand and use a firm, full-palm handshake.
- Use silence to your advantage. Sit quietly for a few seconds before you respond to a question. You may be viewed as an intelligent, thoughtful person who chooses words carefully before replying.
- In dealing with an office bully, be direct and use short responses. Use a calm, even tone when responding to a man's anger. He's used to fighting to survive. Don't fight back in the same manner. Give him the information he needs and move on.
Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area.