“Gender communications” is a hot topic. On the masculine-feminine continuum, we have explored the broad issue difference in how Max (representing the masculine approach) and Fran (representing feminine approaches) express themselves. The Max approach is to maximize his impact, sometimes overstating his command of a topic or skill and demonstrating his status by taking up time and space. Fran’s approach is to minimize focus on herself, often understating what she knows and her own role in a successful outcome.
At work, this is reflected in the way Max and Fran actually talk. Max speaks in declarative sentences like, “This chair is blue.” This form of speech sounds confident; Max will speak with certitude even if he is not sure (for example, the chair may be teal). Fran tends to use more qualifiers. She uses disclaimers (“I am not sure but I believe this chair is teal”), hedges (“I think maybe it is more teal”) and tag questions (“This chair is teal, right?”). Max will say, “I will get that done by Wednesday” while Fran may say, “I have never done this but I will try to do it by Wednesday.”
The strengths of Max’s declarative and confident form of speech are obvious. Max will get opportunities for “stretch” assignments (projects requiring skills he has not yet demonstrated). He inspires confidence because he sounds confident. Fran will undermine her own chances at such projects. Yet there are downsides of the Max approach. It can sound arrogant. He may over-promise and under-deliver. People may begin to question whether he really knows what he is talking about.
Research shows that, to succeed, business women need to demonstrate confidence. I often coach women to use more declarative speech and monitor their use of disclaimers, hedges and tag questions. In our culture, confidence is assumed to reflect competence – even though the correlation is fairly weak. Fran’s communication style can sound self-diminishing. She may have important ideas that are not taken seriously. She has a harder time “tooting her own horn.” Because of how she speaks and presents her ideas, she may not get credit for her contributions. In most situations with clients, for example, Fran must master the masculine form of speaking declaratively.
But the feminine form of speech also has advantages. It is humble. It invites input and makes others feel included in the discussion. I know successful men who use Fran’s form of speech. A high-level officer in the Air Force told me he speaks this way when it is important to sound humble or indicate he respects the superior rank of another.
Where have you seen advantages and disadvantages of the masculine and feminine forms of how we talk?