There are some universal communication mistakes that anyone can make in the workplace. That’s a pretty long list. But in addition, there are also some communication mistakes that are not universal, but rather are gender specific. And in an era where there is more scrutiny, and far more risk, coming from the things we say to each other, these are important things to think about.
So, pay attention gentlemen. Today I am writing directly for you. But don’t worry… this is NOT a post about political correctness. This IS a post about how to be the best communicator, leader, and colleague you can be. And to be all those things, you have to be aware of the audience you are speaking to and the environment you are in (and in many cases, the environment you are helping to create).
A good leader knows how to create an environment that brings the best out of her or his team. And in my experience, some male leaders don’t communicate in ways that optimize the contribution of the women in the room. My colleagues and I talk and write all the time about “know your audience.” We coach and train constantly on how to modify your communication style so that you have the greatest chance to connect with your audience and get a good outcome.
But when it comes to communication with women, many men make a few major mistakes. And since women make up more than 50% of the American workforce, such communication skills are pretty important.
Here are some common communication mis-steps we see from men in the workplace. While some of these might not be gender specific, they tend to impact women disproportionately:
- Listening just to pause. Good listening is about more than being silent, more than just keeping your mouth shut and letting someone else speak. Good listening also means providing some validation (body language, eye contact, actual words) that the person was heard. Many people, women and men, need to receive some validation of their point. If they don’t, they may stop contributing. Good listening requires such validation. If you want more contribution from someone, you have to validate their input. This doesn’t mean you have to agree with them all the time. You just have to consistently validate (and at least once in a while agree!)
- Interruption. Interruption is rude, and this is not just about gender. Men interrupt men all the time. As do many women. But the impact can be big, especially if the person doing the interrupting is a man in charge, and the person being interrupted is a woman. Let people finish their point. Otherwise, you can expect them to retreat.
- Idle chat that excludes. Again, this is not always about man or woman. But if the idle chatter pre-meeting or in the hallway leaves someone out, you are marginalizing them, and may not get the best out of them. They may not feel part of the team. Think about inclusion, and finding topics that everyone can connect to. Or at least rotating topics around so it is not always about football or your golf game. Even better… bring up topics that you know nothing about, but others in the room care about. And then listen to the discussion (see point #1).
- Patronizing explanation, often called “man-splaining.” I hate that term, it gets thrown around a lot, and its meaning has drifted over time. But gender-based patronizing is real, and occurs in a number of ways: for example, when a man steps in to explain a point, made previously by a woman, that perhaps wasn’t fully received or perhaps wasn’t clear. (And often, in my experience the attempt to restate the point is less clear than the original attempt!); or perhaps when men openly and clearly explain things in simpler terms to the women in the room, as if they won’t get the unabridged version. There are other examples of this kind of behavior, but all of them minimize your colleague, create self-doubt and reduce future interaction or contribution. Even if your intentions are good, the net result may be negative. What is the better strategy? If you think the point didn’t land, then validate the point, and ask respectful questions to help create more clarity.
You can create a great, open environment by calling out the behaviors in a non-accusatory way, especially when you call it out in yourself. You give license to everyone to speak openly about these topics, and to collaborate towards a healthy environment for all. I have been accused (probably accurately) of some of these things myself in the past. Being guilty of any of these kinds of behaviors doesn’t mean you are ill-intentioned or a bad person. It could be entirely unconscious. But it does mean that efforts to continuously improve our awareness and skills are required. We live in a dynamic work environment. The more diverse our work population becomes, the more we have to think about how to communicate in ways that include and validate everyone, and optimize the contribution from everyone on the team.
As with everything we talk and write about at The Latimer Group, we believe some simple techniques can have a huge impact on your company, your team and the your overall productivity. Let’s help create the type of environment that maximizes the contribution of all. Then, everyone wins.
Good luck and have a great day!
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