The other day I was in a meeting with a group of sales people. The conversation was energetic and lively with lots of great ideas bouncing around. I was watching this exchange and noticed something. Out of nearly a dozen people, there were only two men. And those men weren’t speaking much. Why? Because men and women communicate very differently.
The women in the room were having an open dialogue and effective interaction but their style unintentionally left the men out, causing them to shut down. Most likely, these women—and most others in the workplace—–aren’t aware that their natural tendencies can affect the feelings and participation of men. But being cognizant of these behaviors can help you be more inclusive.
Here are three ways women unintentionally exclude men in the workplace:
- Our communication patterns. Women are considered very collaborative so we tend to finish each other’s sentences and add onto each other’s points. We use a lot of filler words, words that are rooted in emotion such as “I feel,” or cheerlead, “Absolutely, great point!” Research has shown that we want to create a good environment, a sense of community and maintain positive relationships with the people in the room. Men, on the other hand, are more pragmatic and direct in their communication-style. It’s not that they don’t want a good atmosphere, but it isn’t quite as necessary. Women should consider giving more space and time for men to contribute to a conversation. We should aim to streamline our messages by dialing back the emotion or relationship-focused words. We don’t need to eradicate our style of communication but be aware and scale it back so everyone feels comfortable to participate.
- Competing with each other. Women want harmony—until competition enters the picture and then that harmony can break down in a bad way. While competition for men is viewed as natural and positive; for women, it’s widely seen as a negative force that can wreak havoc on the work environment. In my gender cooperation training, men have told me that they feel very uncomfortable when there’s competition between two women. For men, they can compete with a colleague, compartmentalize, and head out for a beer. For women, it’s a different story. Competition often erodes the effectiveness of the team and can even brew a toxic environment. If you see that competition is having a negative impact on the team, try to quickly resolve any conflict and move on. This way it won’t confuse men—and women—on the team and everyone can get back to working towards the same goal.
- Big thinking. When most women wake up in the morning, they’re thinking about the entire day ahead of them—all the way to bedtime. Men, on the other hand, often think about just the first twenty minutes. Does this ring true for you and your partner? Research backs it up. Mark Gungor has found that men and women’s brains work differently. His research has shown that women’s brains are more connected so when we’re thinking, more areas of the brain are involved. When we are considering a project at work, we think about its impact on all the stakeholders involved including ourselves and our professional and personal lives. Men, on the other hand, think linearly. Only one area of the brain is involved during thinking. (It’s important to note that a Stanford University study contradicts these findings and asserts that socialization is responsible for brain signaling). We can’t retrain our brains, but women can aim to be more present in the moment. We can try to shrink our decision-making process so that it does not encompass a multitude of aspects and angles—overwhelming both ourselves and our male colleagues. If we want to show the bigger picture to them, we should do so in a way that’s explicit—linearizing our multi-thinking process.
Women don’t need to entirely change who they are and how they do things in the workplace, but being more self-aware of how our behavior may impact the feelings and participation of our male counterparts and adapting our styles when appropriate, will help our working relationships.
In case you missed it, check out my LinkedIn article on ways men may behave sexist and how to avoid it.
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