Communication Styles by Gender

Gender, along with geographical origin, ethnicity, age, and class are all linked to a person’s communication style. Some of these differences are hard-wired and others are the result of socialization. Women think of communication as a way to build relationships; men see it as a way to share information. These differences can lead to misunderstandings and misinterpretations.

Why are conversations misunderstood? Sometimes it’s because of the speaker’s choice of words. Other times it’s related to how the speaker presents the message and how the listener interprets the message. In both cases, it can be gender based. Men and women may interpret the same message very differently. Why? During a conversation, women tend to listen to tone, volume and body language. They personalize what is being said. “She doesn’t like me.” “He’s rude.” “He just wants to dominate the situation.” They aren’t focusing on the specific words but rather the other 90%; how the words are being delivered.

Men on the other hand respond to what is being said; often times their interpretation is at a literal level. “I saw she was nodding her head and smiling. She obviously agrees with what I said.” Since women want to have relationships, their smile and nod aren’t necessarily because they agree, but their way of trying to connect. Men may not completely focus on the words of the conversation, but rather on non-verbal responses. Sometimes these responses send unintended messages, causing misinterpretation and misunderstandings

The best way to fully understand a conversation is to be an effective listener. Women use a lot of non-verbal communication when they listen. They are likely to nod their heads and say ‘yes’ even if they don’t agree. They are more likely to gaze into the eyes of the speaker. Why? Even when listening, they are trying to build a relationship. Men, on the other hand, tend to show less emotion when listening and provide less non-verbal feedback to the speaker.

Men see conversations as a way to share information and gather the facts. When talking, they tend to make statements that are more absolute. Although happy to give advice, men are less receptive to receiving advice. When listening, they are trying to gather the facts. They may find it difficult to listen to a woman because she is wordy and uses abstract terms, metaphors and superlatives.

Different communication styles may lead to problems; unintended messages may be sent. Since women are willing to take advice and generally sound less assertive, they may be viewed as not taking charge and being indecisive. Tone and volume directly impact the meaning. A woman may sound hesitant; her volume may make her sound mouse-like. The vocal aspects of a woman’s message tend to make her sound less confident and knowledgeable.

These differences go back to the nurture theory. A woman’s less assertive tone can be traced back to her upbringing. As little girls, women are taught to be polite, not aggressive or assertive. Men are encouraged and rewarded for aggressive tendencies beginning when they are little boys. 

Women and men will continue to make their points and sell their ideas using different communication styles. Women enjoy having conversations; men use conversations to find solutions. From the boss to support staff, the key is for everyone to understand there are gender differences. No style is right or wrong, just different. Understanding these differences helps everyone be more effective communicators. It leads to improved client relationships and more satisfied customers. It also means the company’s profitability will increase.