He Said, She Said

Within our personal lives, the concept that men and women communicate differently is widely accepted.  In John Gray’s famous book, he goes as far as to say that men and women are so different they don’t even come from the same planet! There has been a considerable amount of research done to study these differences and several of the communication issues we face in our personal relationships seem to also exist at work. Becoming familiar with what they are could help facilitate better communication and result in a more productive work environment. It is important to point out that each method of communication is perfectly legitimate and not all men and women exhibit all of these characteristics.

Having both a daughter and a son has been a real eye-opener for me. Ever since preschool, I have noticed a difference in the way they communicate.  My daughter’s interactions, especially with her friends, seem to focus on connecting, whereas my son’s are often centered on competing. This innate, and perhaps cultural, difference may become the basis of how we ultimately communicate in our professional lives.  According to several studies on the topic, the most common variations in the way men and women communicate at work are summarized below:

  • Women tend to focus on relationships; men tend to focus on status and results
  • Women tend to be more collaborative; men are typically more assertive
  • Women seem to validate their requests and demands; men are usually more direct
  • Women are more apt to share praise; men prefer to be recognized individually
  • Women talk to assemble information; men talk to provide information
  • Women are more likely to share the details; men seem to like to get to the point

For a good portion of my career I was on a team that was comprised of mostly women. It comes as no surprise that during that time I felt right at home interacting with my teammates.  I didn’t appreciate how the handful of men on our team must have struggled at times. Eventually changes took place and all at once I found myself to be the only female on a team of all men! I rapidly became aware of the differences in how we communicate first hand.  In fact, we had a weekly conference call and there were times I hung up the phone and thought, “OMG!  What in the world did we just talk about?” However, I could tell all the men seemed really enthused by the conversation that just took place. It took me a minute, but once I took the time to understand the common communication tendencies for men and women I was able to take into account their style while evaluating my own.  This put me in a much better position to be a successful member of the team.

Indeed not everyone fits these generalizations, however, if we pay attention to gender differences we can avoid some of the common communication struggles that exist across gender lines. This will not only help get the job done more effectively, but will also create a more positive workplace.

Jeni VerMeulen
Jeni VerMeulen
Corporate Sales Liaison, Optum