10 Ways for Women to Talk with Male Colleagues

Gender Cooperation Workshops

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.

Facilitate Your Success by Managing Up

Management Development

Facilitate Your Success by Managing Up

Passed over for promotion? Mediocre raise? Not landing the best assignments? It may not be due to your job performance. No matter how stellar your results, how much your co-workers and stakeholders depend on you – if your manager doesn’t know what a good job you’re doing, it won’t matter.

Too many professionals labor under the same myth: they assume that if they work hard and perform well, their boss will notice. The truth is, every boss has big responsibilities and may be too busy to notice everything their reports accomplish. The boss-employee relationship is a two-way street. Rather than passively wait for recognition, praise and direction, smart employees will proactively build a productive relationship with their bosses.

Excelling in the workplace is all well and good – but to be really successful, you need to know how to manage up. Consider the following.

  • Schedule regular face-time with your boss, and make sure you prepare an agenda for each meeting to make every moment count. Ask for feedback and expectations so you know how to deliver the right results.
  • Align yourself with your manager’s communication style and preferences. Is she analytical? Then support your ideas with facts and statistics. Is your boss always super-busy? Cut to the chase when you speak with him. Observe whether your manager prefers early morning meetings or after-work get-togethers and schedule accordingly.
  • Leave your ego at the door when you speak with your boss. Your goal should be to learn how you can get the best results and make your department look good. That includes learning your boss’s boundaries to ensure you’re not stepping on his or her toes.
  • Rather than waiting for instructions, look around and propose solutions to existing problems.
  • Demonstrate your long-term commitment by asking which skills you should develop to increase your value to the company – then follow through with the right classes and coaching.
  • Own your mistakes as quickly as you can. Explain how they happened and how you’ll avoid making the same mistake again, then do whatever your boss asks to get the problem resolved.
  • If your manager takes the heat for the team’s mistakes, allow him or her to take credit for the team’s success. This tells you that your manager takes ownership of all the department activities.
  • Learn the art of saying “no” – if you’re so busy that the quality of your work is suffering, tell your boss you can’t take on anymore.
  • Volunteer for high-profile projects. If other managers and executives notice your performance, you’ll make your boss look good – and set yourself up for bigger and better things.

Chances are you might be doing some of these already. The key is to take a proactive role in building your relationship with your manager, rather than passively hoping for credit and guidance. Often these tactics can make the difference in not only your experience at your current company but in your career overall. Remember, no matter how successful you get, you’ll still answer to someone – which makes learning to manage up one of the most valuable skills you can acquire.