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The Now, The New & The Next in Careers

Communicating & Working in a Male-Dominated Environment

16 Mar 2012 3:25 PM | Anonymous

By Joan Runnheim Olson

Working in a male-dominated environment has its challenges, with communication differences at the top. What are some of the differences between how women and men communicate and what strategies can women use to be more effective working with men? 

Assertiveness vs. Aggressiveness. The very same communication behaviors can be perceived as assertive when performed by a man and as aggressive when performed by a woman. This is a tough issue, because it's difficult to break stereotypical thinking by both genders. Asserting your needs, wants, ideas, and conflicts at work is usually better than letting everything go unnoticed. Back up your verbalized assertions by putting them in writing, if others don't fully understand or take you seriously. Give it time to soak in when what you communicate may be difficult for others to accept. Avoid blowing up or restating your needs repeatedly in the same meeting. Remain calm, breathe, and take a break to keep things in perspective.

Indirect vs. Direct Communication. Men often value direct statements, where people "tell it like it is," whereas women tend to be "polite," which others can perceive as "beating around the bush." Differences impact giving and receiving orders, constructive criticism, even compliments. Women can practice being more direct; determine "musts" and "mights." On giving feedback or criticism, be specific. Stick to the facts, keep it brief, criticize the work, not the person, and put it in writing.

Nonverbal Messages. We send messages with our facial expressions, gestures, posture, rate, volume, and tone of our voice, door open vs. closed, style of dress, eye contact, etc. Mixed messages occur when our verbal and nonverbal acts don't match. Learn to recognize and control your nonverbal signals; understand the nonverbal messages of others. Check out your perceptions when signals don't match. Sit and stand up straight yet relaxed. Clarify if you nod in agreement or to signal that you are listening but may not agree. Bring signals up to clarify what's going on.

If you're a woman working in a male-dominated environment, try the above strategies with your male co-workers and direct reports. I will post some more tips on this topic in my next blog post.

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