Lost in Translation: Bridging the Communications Gender Gap

by Connie Glaser

You've read the generalizations and heard the clichés: Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. Men don't ask for directions, women can't read road maps. Are these clichés in fact true? Are they supported by scientific evidence, or are we just programmed to believe them?

And what are the implications of such generalizations for collaboration between men and women at work? Gender differences affect almost every aspect of our lives—from the bedroom to the boardroom. However, according to gender experts including Pat Heim and my own observations, most communication clashes between women and men, can have a lot to do with culture. Each gender's culture has its own norms, customs, and rituals for talking, listening, and problem solving. These differences can lead to major misunderstandings, stymied work relationships, and even a hostile work environment. Both cultures boast their own strengths and weaknesses, and neither is likely to change their communication styles. But both women and men can take simple win-win steps to increase understanding and collaboration in the workplace. GenderTalk Tips© for Men Avoid monopolizing conversations. Hear women out. Keep interruptions to a minimum. Invest time in building rapport with women. Relationships are important to them, and a few minutes of small talk can reap big benefits. Keep in mind that when a woman says, "I'm sorry," it doesn't necessarily mean that she's admitting wrongdoing. She is most likely empathizing. GenderTalk Tips© for Women Speak up. Don't allow yourself to be interrupted. Be firm and say, "I'm not finished yet" or "Just a minute, please." When conversing with men, cut to the chase. Avoid sharing unnecessary details or asking too many questions. Learn not to take comments and criticisms personally. Remember, it's business, not personal. These simple changes can go a long way in helping prevent or clarify misunderstandings at work. Moreover, by acknowledging, even appreciating, each other's cultural differences, both women and men—and the companies they work for—can thrive. Directions... who needs 'em? by Tammy Hughes "Why won't men stop to ask for directions?" The answer to this question seems to evoke some of the most fun-loving and refreshing responses of the entire GenderSpeak workshop. I've seen countless people enthralled at this very important learning!! Let me fill you in. Because men tend to live in a hierarchy, there is some risk associated with being the one "asking the questions" versus being the one "answering the questions". You see, in the hierarchy, if you stop to ask for directions, you place yourself below the person you are asking. That risk appearing as if you don't know the answer could propel men into driving around longer, remaining lost, and wasting a lot more time and fuel. Important learning: This response is functional in the male culture of a hierarchy; however, it can appear very odd and be quite frustrating – across cultures. In the female culture, which is more flat structured, asking questions doesn't generally create any problems or have associated risk. Here's a humorous example: A recent commercial for Dodge trucks shows a man driving while towing his boat... in the desert! His wife glares at him with frustration and asks why he doesn't get directions (to find the lake). He quickly replies "I'm not lost." Understanding what drives the behavior and discovering the invisibility of the different cultural rules can certainly provide some frustration relief in this very common situation!

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