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   I’ve been doing a series of blogs on the workplace areas in which Max and Fran operate differently—how they STRUCTURE things, what is their primary FOCUS in making decisions, and how they INFLUENCE. This one, about how they TALK, takes up more pages in my book than any other. It can be a whole separate topic, sometimes called “gender communications.” It is critical that leaders understand this area in order to create an inclusive workplace.

One of the “key drivers” of differences in masculine and feminine approaches (represented, respectively, by Max and Fran), is “How We Express Ourselves.” The area of How We Talk grows out of this driver but is focused on how Max and Fran speak—both verbally and non-verbally. On the masculine side of the masculine-feminine continuum is Declare; on the feminine side is Disclaim.

Think of these as two different “languages.” Because men got to the business workplace before women, it is natural that the “first language” of business is “Max,” the masculine way of speaking. While Fran may become fluent in “Max,” she may sometimes speak “Fran.” Being unaware of these differences, and taking what someone says literally, can lead to judgment and misunderstanding.

Structures of Speech

Different structures of speech show up in the two languages. The language of “Max” is full of declarative statements. Max is objective and “to the point”; he focuses on facts more than feelings. His direct, more forceful kind of speech sounds confident, competent and authoritative; all are important in Max’s world view, in which status is very important. In Fran’s world view, maintaining relationships in which power is equally shared matters most. As a result, the language of “Fran” has speech structures that maintain flatness. Fran uses more questions than declarative statements; and she uses what Dr. Pat Heim calls disclaimers, hedges and tag questions. She also uses the language of apology more.

  •  Disclaimers are phrases that precede a statement but discount its importance or relevance. The word “but” often bridges the disclaimer and the statement. Examples are: “This may be stupid,” “You’ve probably already thought of this,” “I could be wrong,” “I’m not sure.”
  • Hedges soften and hedge a statement. Words like “try,” “hope,” “believe,” and “feel”—and “maybe” and “sort of” appear often in the language of Fran.
  • Tag questions come at the end of a statement and turn it into a question: “Right?” “Okay,” “Do you know what I mean?” Or inflection of the voice can convert a statement to a question.

Fran uses these speech structures to level the playing field, to be sure her listener doesn’t hear her as “talking down” or thinking too highly of herself or her idea. Speaking “Fran” works well to soften language, to promote negotiation and to reflect relative rank. For example, an Air Force Colonel recently told me he uses disclaimers when speaking with an older superior officer to make sure he acknowledges his own lower rank. But if Fran uses these forms of speech unconsciously in a group that speaks “Max,” she may be heard as lacking confidence or not believing in her own ideas. Or she might not be heard at all!

In “Fran” language, saying “I’m sorry” may express empathy while in “Max” it is an acceptance of fault or responsibility.  Apologizing lowers one’s status in Max’s worldview. In Fran’s worldview, it brings people together. Understanding this difference can avoid misunderstandings. Research shows that women apologize—or use the language of apology—more than men.

Meeting Talk

Many people think women talk more than men. In business meetings, research shows, men do more of the talking. Fran may wait her turn and share the “air time” by speaking concisely. And she is less comfortable interrupting someone who is speaking and may give up the floor when she is interrupted. In her worldview, these maintain relationships. As a result, her voice may not be heard. Or Max may judge her as not being assertive enough.

Max is more likely to step in and push his ideas. He will explain his ideas at length, demonstrating how good he thinks they are. In his worldview, these enhance his status and his chances of “winning.” Fran may judge him for “hogging” the time or feel discounted when he talks over her.

Women often report that they have offered an idea in a meeting with men; there is little response. A few minutes later a man says essentially the same thing and gets support and credit for the idea. She may feel unheard. He is not being rude. He may not have heard her because she was speaking “Fran.” Or, because he works like he plays, he may think it fair game to pick up her idea and drive it to the finish line.

Where have you seen these two languages? Does this help you understand them better?

I’ll cover more about how Max and Fran talk in my next blog.