Everybody talks about the importance of communication. But what’s often overlooked is the fact that not everybody communicates in the same way.
Clearly, there are dangers and risks in conversational stereotyping.
But there are real, documented differences in the way people behave in conversation – especially when it comes to gender. You wouldn’t want to stereotype people based on those differences, but you do want to be aware of the differences and how you can address them in a difficult conversation.
Here’s how to do it on both ends of the conversation – speaking and listening:
Differences in style
Years of research have produced a consensus on some key differences in how each gender communicates. A sampling:
- Women tend to give clues indicating they hear and understand – what communication experts call “active listening.” The problem is that women sometimes will nod and say “uh-huh” even when they don’t fully understand.
To make sure they’re getting through, managers should ask a lot of follow-up questions and check to see that the answers show clear comprehension of the message they’re trying to send.
- Men are mainly passive listeners. Even when they “get it,” they tend to give off few verbal or physical clues, so managers shouldn’t get too discouraged if they don’t get as much reaction as they might from a woman. Most men will speak up and say they don’t understand, so supervisors generally won’t have to probe so much for a clarity check.
Getting the real story
- Women are good storytellers. They like to provide details that build to a conclusion or point. That means listening to them sometimes requires a little more patience and concentration as they reach a grand finale.
- Men get to the point more quickly – sometimes too quickly. In doing so, they can omit crucial details.
That means when managers are on the listening end, they may have to ask more questions to make sure the fine points don’t get missed.
Just remember …
The observations here are based on years of research and documentation about habits and tendencies continually observed in men and women.
That doesn’t mean every woman or every man you deal with will display those habits and tendencies, and managers shouldn’t assume they will.
The research findings do come in handy, however, when a manager’s trying to understand why someone doesn’t seem to be responding the way he or she had hoped.
What about the ‘Generation Gap’?
So the research tells us there are clear lines between how men and women communicate. But what about the differences when comparing generations? You know, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y and so on.
It would be foolish to deny that people have different career expectations at different stages of their lives. There’s little research to refute that idea.
The good news for managers: Most of the research shows very little differences in communicating among the generations.
One group might say “ya know” or “cool” more than another, but when it comes to basic listening and communicating, no generation shows exhibits a clear edge or disadvantage. You can safely approach a difficult conversation in pretty much the same way with a member of any age group.
In short, there is little evidence to show there’s a Generation Gap for communication styles (though we’ll exempt teenagers from the mix).