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10 Ways for Women to Talk with Male Colleagues

In a recent blog post, I tackled how men can communicate with women in the workplace. It was well received, with a lot of interesting feedback coming my way – and not just from men. As the days passed, I started thinking that I should probably do a post for women, too.

Let me be clear: on a basic level, neither male nor female communication styles are inherently “wrong.” Often the misunderstandings come from assumptions about the intentions behind someone’s words and actions. For instance, a woman may perceive a male colleague as brusque and condescending, when his intention is to be efficient and decisive. A man may see a woman as trying too hard to include everybody, when her intention is to gain consensus on a complex business issue. That being said, and having already given you men some advice, I’m back with some tips for women.

1. Don’t be afraid to say “no”. Women tend to take on more and more. Focus on prioritizing – doing fewer things better – and if you need to say no to a request or new project, do so with confidence, not apologies.

2. Stand up for yourself. Don’t be cowed by louder or more aggressive colleagues. Force yourself to speak up more and defend your point of view.

3. Be confident. In a new book, The Confidence Code, co-author Katty Kay says that the research shows confidence is more important than competence. And women tend to focus strongly on the latter.

4. Be “one of the guys.” A male-dominated culture often tends to be heavy on the jokes – and as long as what they’re saying isn’t offensive, play along a bit. If their sarcasm gets off-putting, it’s helpful to have a few sharp comebacks in your pocket.

5. Stick to the facts. Men are generally conditioned to act, and so their communication style tends to be more to the point. Keep it short and sweet and they’ll pay attention.

6. Be direct and use declarative statements. Women are more likely to phrase requests or opinions as suggestions or even questions, as opposed to men, who usually just tell it like it is. If you have something to say, just say it without qualifying it.

7. Be specific with feedback. This is especially important if you’re in a management role, many men are hard-wired tune out criticism. Rather than generalities, offer specific action items for them to act on.

8. Find common ground. Talking about your kids or a mutual interest in Wes Anderson movies can shift the way you communicate and create an overall better working relationship.

9. Be appropriately assertive in group situations. In a meeting or brainstorming session where everyone is throwing in ideas, make sure you jump right in. Women often wait to be “invited” to join the conversation or asked their thoughts, whereas men are apt to just throw ideas out there.

10. Don’t take things personally. Men do make blunders in communicating with women, but for the most part they don’t actively try to alienate their female colleagues. Don’t take perceived tactlessness personally. But do feel free to treat it as a coaching moment.

Melissa Lamson

About The Author

Melissa Lamson, Founder and President of Lamson Consulting, is an author, consultant, and speaker who accelerates the business expansion goals of today’s most successful companies by developing global mindset, refining leadership skills, and bridging cross cultural communication. More About Melissa Lamson