Men and women are not the same. Therefore the need to understand each other and get rid of incorrect commonly held stereotypes while learning to utilize our strengths and differences to create a more productive workplace.
Frictions between men and women occur everywhere, from relationships, households, family, and also in the workplace. It is natural, since we perceive those differences and we keep trying to make each other be more like what we are not. Men keep asking us to “be more like a man”, to stop expecting them to guess our thoughts and feelings, while women have spent a lifetime attempting to “improve” men.
As Kathleen Brady describes in her article “Understand the Communication Styles of Women and Men to Increase Workplace Productivity”, gender is a physical attribute and constitutes one of the first things people perceive in others, it is the first “mark” that differentiates us. But, Brady highlights, “’different from’ is not the same thing as ‘less than’.”
And the best thing we could do is stop trying to change the other because we think our way is the best way. We must start understanding that our differences are what makes us stronger if we learn to make them work together and achieve a more productive work environment.
Communicating across gender barriers
Research has shown how gender differences affect the communication process. Men and women innately use different communication styles, thus creating misunderstandings. There are basic differences in the way men and women perform alone and in groups, and in the way of communicating with each other in the workplace.
Men tend to communicate to accomplish goals, while women often communicate to establish or to maintain relationships.
Men are conditioned to use a direct and forceful manner of communicating, and women generally use a quieter and sometimes more passive or tentative approach.
Women, as gender communication expert Simma Lieberman highlights, are more likely to talk to other women when they have a problem or need support to make a decision. While men “keep their problems to themselves and don’t see the point in sharing personal issues.”
Women are also more relationship oriented, looking for common points with others and ways in which to connect. Men relate to other men in a one-up, one-down basis, based more on status and dominance.
Lieberman also explains that women focus on building rapport through sharing and asking questions. Men, on the other side, tell information more than ask questions.
If there is a disagreement between women, it affects all aspects of their relationship. With men, disagreements can exist but they are able to move to another subject easily.
Women work by building relationships, while men build only short-term relationships based on projects.
Male and female reactions in meetings also differs. Lieberman explains that women tend to nod their head as a sign that they are listening, while men interpret this as a sign that the woman is agreeing with them. This can create confusion and misinterpretations since men only nod their heads when they agree. Because of this, women might assume that because a man is not nodding as he listens, he either disagrees or is not listening.
Experts suggest men need to increase their listening skills, as women appreciate listeners. On the other hand, women must improve their communication with men by being more direct, making an effort to explain their reasons for their views and being more tolerant during disagreements.
During disagreements, men and women react differently. Men tend to become angry at loss of control, system inefficiencies, or lack of staff professionalism. While women experience both anger and hurt when they perceive other people as uncaring, unwilling to listen to them, or uninterested in forming a relationship.
To the root of the barriers
Male and female stereotypes have been reinforced over time as children grow up observing how men and women act. As Brady describes, children grow up watching career choices of adults, which influences them in determining certain jobs are male or female.
The root of the gender gap in the workplace can be found in our childhood years, in how we grow up perceiving gender roles. Brady puts it clear: “Boys’ play involved more competition, conflict and struggles for dominance. They had more opportunities to learn how to manage conflict and, as a result, are less concerned about any negative impact a disagreement will have on the relationship.” On the other hand, she describes how girls learned that they get better results by talking, phrasing ideas as suggestions rather than orders, prompting them to develop a “preference for cooperation and avoiding conflict.” This resulted in women developing behaviors and communication styles that appear less competent and less self-assured than those men possess.
Brady’s view is interesting, adhering to childhood development theories. It might seem like all the blame is in how we were raised, but at least it’s an attempt on finding the cause of the problem.
While the differences are subtle, men and women need to consider their communication styles are different, and they have to adapt them as needed in the work environment. As cultural norms are shifting, there are still no definitive agreement as how to behave and adapt to male and female communication patterns.
The reality pressures us to adapt fast, as we work side by side in a wide range of industries, different environments, different job levels, etc. We must recognize the priorities of one another, and learn to collaborate to achieve productivity. This collaboration is only possible if we learn to appreciate the origins of gender behaviors, and get rid of the filters that make us look at each other as competitors rather than teammates.