GenderSpeak: Men, Women and Communication at Work

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Gender Speak

If you begin to really listen to your colleagues at work, you will soon see several different kinds of communication patterns emerge.

Want work to get done faster and smarter? Then craft your talking and listening skills for “GenderSpeak.”

It’s no surprise that many aspects of males and females are different, even when it comes to words going into the language centers of the brain and how we respond to what we hear.

If you begin to really listen to your colleagues at work, you will soon see several different kinds of communication patterns emerge. I learned this years ago when a senior vice president called me aside and asked me to “stop using the ‘F’ word.” I was confused, because I knew my language at the meeting had been pristine. He added, “You keep asking me how I FEEL, and I have no idea how I feel. I only know what I THINK.

The clue to communicating with this individual was right there. After that encounter, I asked him what he thought and got all the answers I needed about how he felt. Just that one small change and we were partners again instead of adversaries.

The way we communicate is a blend of both genetic and environmental factors. Let’s leave it to the scientists to decide where the differences lie. Just know that the hormones testosterone and oxytocin play their parts in what we say and do. You can learn how to use what science knows to your advantage, with just a little effort and understanding.

However, I do feel I must give a word of warning: these are guidelines, not generic rules based only on stereotypes. Of course women can think and men can feel; just pay attention to the subtle differences in what team members of each gender say, and you will win at communication.


  1. Tend to give solutions quickly
  2. Say what they want from the discussion
  3. Focus on facts
  4. Limit impact from others agreeing/disagreeing 


  1. Share problems to get ideas
  2. Hint at what they want
  3. Give details and emotions
  4. Look to others for agreement

Women are often more sensitive to nonverbal cues such as facial expression, gestures, posture and eye contact, and are especially tuned to audible communication such as voice, tone, pitch and emotion. Most women do best when face-to-face communication includes brief intervals of looking away and then back while talking, rather than what many call a “stare down;” that tactic can come across as intimidating.

Men often have a tough time when they hear what they consider “a whiny tone,” and become defensive if they think the discussion may bring forward excessive emotion. That’s when they may feel an urge to jump in and “fix everything.” Also, there can be discomfort in men when women move around too much, such as gesturing animatedly during speech. Most males respond more favorably when all those involved in the discussion keep their arms at their sides or even crossed, rather than lots of motion and moving around.

Research also indicates that many men are more comfortable taking credit for work while women tend to shy away from the spotlight. Men can be more competitive in the workplace while women are more willing to collaborate.

Assertive women and passive men have gotten a bad rap, but that is now starting to change as women become more daring and men more caring. It’s important to remember that all human beings have feminine and masculine aspects, and each carries its own strengths. Focusing too much on only one aspect doesn’t contribute to healthy discourse.

Find the sweet spots in communication. Experiment with the words and gestures that create good will. You will soon find that your work culture will have heightened creativity and cooperation, and continuing to practice your communication skills can only contribute to your success as a communicator and leader.


Additional Reading

Staffing for Operational Excellence

Business communications problems I often see that undermine operational excellence initiatives and how I resolve them


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