Or, why women nod and men get impatient and both end up annoyed. By Candy Tymson
Since the beginning of time, men and women have not understood each other. We are motivated by different things and have quite different needs. It has nothing to do with whether or not we are equal – we simply communicate in different ways.
With so many women now in senior positions and running successful companies, understanding the differences in business communication has become essential for both sexes.
Recently I heard some chief executives express frustration at their senior female executives.
The managing director of a large food importer was complaining that his senior women have a tendency to come into his office, “dump” all their problems and leave. “I pay them to solve problems, not give them back to me,” he says.
This is a typical example of the different way men and women operate. The woman is simply discussing the issues with him. She knows she needs to find the answers, but talking about it helps her to work out the solutions.
Meanwhile, he has moved straight into solution mode. “Once I’m told about a problem I have to solve it.” The result is that he is feeling frustrated because he now thinks he has to do her job. She is feeling just as frustrated because she thinks he is talking away her responsibility.
Status v. relationship
So what are the differences? Generally speaking (and there are always exceptions), men use language to preserve their independence and maintain their position in the group; women use language to achieve connection and intimacy.
Next time you are in a business meeting with men and women, notice the dynamics. Basically there are two styles: the Information Style and the Relationship Style.
The Information Style is often men’s chosen style. Talk is primarily meant to preserve independence and negotiate and maintain status.
Women tend to use the Relationship Style. Conversation is primarily about rapport; a way of establishing connections and negotiating relationships.
Think about the different styles in use when a male and a female manager are asked to make a decision.
The woman tends to discuss it with others, and seek their input and feedback before making a recommendation to senior management. She thinks it important for everyone to feel they have contributed to the decision, therefore they will be more likely to support it.
In contrast, the man usually makes the decision without any consultation, then makes the recommendation. He believes that seeking input is unnecessary. He is in charge, so he needs to make the decision. Because of this, he is likely to think that the woman cannot make a decision on her own, and needs to check with others first.
Different approaches for different reasons. The female’s first priority is relationship, the male’s is status.
Even in body language, men and women can give off different signals.
A female colleague, who is a director at a large financial company, expressed it well recently. She recalled a meeting of senior executives of both sexes.
“To my horror I noticed that all the women were nodding and saying things like yes, OK, and I understand, while the men just sat straight-faced, and wrote the occasional note.
“The men were totally focused on the task at hand. The women were working hard to relate to the speaker rather than focusing on what he was actually saying.”
Women nodding during a conversation usually means “I understand what you are saying”. Men nodding in a discussion usually means “I agree with you”. Often problems arise when a man misinterprets a woman’s automatic rapport-building nodding as meaning that she is in agreement – when in fact she may not be.
Understanding the differences in business communication makes for a more productive, harmonious workplace. People communicate in different ways. Another style is not wrong – it’s just different. Men and women can profit enormously by learning to understand what is happening between them.
How not to
How not to manage budgets
This market is so competitive that it is unfair to single out any one candidate. A substantial number of Australian corporations have such a sophisticated understanding of time that they are able to release their budgets for a 12-month period three to six months after the year has started. So great are their powers of prescience, they are able to do this without ever having to change the title from “Budget for the financial year” to “Budget for bits of the financial year, maybe perhaps two-thirds at least”. On the other hand, many of these corporations seem to run over budget on a regular basis. Fortunately they have next year’s “Two-thirds budget” in which to catch up.
How not to change your business overnight
Perhaps the most common exercise in corporate hubris is the large software or hardware vendor that decides to become an information-technology consultancy overnight. The change is remarkable: within a day the company is able to metamorphose from a seller of products to an adviser and disseminator of knowledge. All without retraining, substantial changes to the staff or corporate restructuring – or, for that matter, financial success. In case after case over the past decade, the vendor manages to go broke as it discovers that the knowledge business is radically different from the computer provider business.
How not to privatise
A great example of market forces is a Victorian privatised gas company that is asking its retailers to guess demand. In a state in which gambling is a high priority, gas retailers are being asked to take a punt. If they choose too much or too little, they have to pay extra for the gas. If their estimates are too far out, they find themselves being asked to leave the gaming table.
How not to speak english
A selection of new terms for the linguistically challenged in the new-millennium office.
- Assmosis: The process by which some people seem to absorb success and advancement by kissing up to the boss.
- Blamestorming: Sitting in a group discussing why a deadline was missed or a project failed and who was responsible.
- Seagull manager: A manager who flies in, makes a lot of noise, shits over everything then leaves.
- CLM: Career-limiting move, a phrase used by microserfs to describe ill-advised activity. Trashing your boss while he or she is within earshot is a serious CLM.
- Adminisphere: The rarefied organisational layers beginning just above the rank and file. Decisions that fall from the adminisphere are often profoundly inappropriate or irrelevant to the problems that they were designed to solve.
- Ohnosecond: That minuscule fraction of time in which you realise that you have just made a big mistake.
- Percussive maintenance: The fine art of whacking the stuffing out of an electronic device to get it to work again.
- Prairie dogging: When someone yells or drops something loudly in a “cube farm” (an office full of cubicles) and dozens of heads pop up over the walls to see what is going on.
How not to innovate
The prize for the world’s worst innovator goes to Arthur Paul Pedrick, who patented 162 inventions between 1962 and 1977, none of which were gloriously transformed into commercial products. Pedrick was so far ahead of his time he that was destined never to be understood, even a little bit. There was true greatness in his bicycle with amphibious capacity, the spectacles that enhanced vision in fog or at night, or the car that could be driven from the back seat.
Yet this was only the beginning. Pedrick’s grand vision could have transformed the climate of the world with his proposal to irrigate deserts by sending a constant supply of snowballs (or was that snowflakes?) from the polar regions using a network of giant peashooters.
Ever the sportsman, Pedrick also invented the guided-missile golf ball, which could be steered into the desired position. Of course, this took some of the surprise out of the game and was considered by some to be against its spirit – and its rules, for that matter. But innovators are rarely understood in their own time, and few have been less understood than Pedrick.
How not to deal with y2k
Y2K is a serious issue, and one Australian company is forcing senior management to respond accordingly. It has cancelled all new-millennium parties and is asking senior management to be in the office as the clock ticks over “just in case something goes wrong”. Of course, it is not entirely clear what senior management is going to do if things go wrong.
One senior executive, possibly the only sane person left in the organisation, has resigned because he wants to go to Britain for a two-week party.