Gender language differences can create confusion in the office
By Katherine Michalets, for SBT
How many times have you heard something that someone says, and you interpreted it the wrong way? How many times was that other person someone of the opposite sex?
Tracey Weigel believes those communication misinterpretations happen too frequently and consequently cause friction in the workplace.
As a result, Weigel started her own Milwaukee consulting business, United Communication Experts LLC (UCE), dedicated to "connecting language, gender and power."
Weigel gives seminars on how to overcome communication differences between people. Since UCE was created two years ago, Weigel has created three seminar programs: business-to-business, provider-to-patient and teacher-to-student.
The focus of the seminars is to educate the audience on the connection between language, gender and power.
"I don’t advocate people changing. I advocate them developing a deeper understanding of where they are and where others are," Weigel says.
She believes that men and women generally speak differently, and that is where the misunderstandings occur. The differences are a result of culture, upbringing and social conditions, she says.
Understanding these differences is important for everyone involved in business, according to Weigel.
"It’s important for everyone at all levels and for internal communication. It’s so people don’t have back-fighting or issues at work. They can go to work and be comfortable knowing that they can express themselves and know what other people are saying," Weigel says.
For the best results, Weigel tailors her seminars to the client’s needs. She has spoken to audiences ranging in size from 30 to 500 people.
"I want them to know how they can improve their communication skills and to take away a great understanding of how others speak and to appreciate genderlect differences," Weigel says. "Genderlect differences are how a person speaks, based on one’s gender identity."
Genderlects are one of Weigel’s main focuses when giving seminars.
One example of a genderlect misunderstanding, according to Weigel, is when a woman wants to discuss an issue with a man, and he thinks she wants his advice, when she doesn’t.
"Women need to say ahead of time that they don’t want advice," Weigel says.
Although Weigel’s conferences address males and females, she has five suggestions for women in business:
1) Be more direct. "It’s OK to ask for what you need and want in the workforce," Weigel says. Women tend to use rapport and solidarity talk, which can come across as inefficiency and the inability to make decisions. "Be assertive, not aggressive," she says.
2) Don’t hesitate to ask for clarification. Weigel recommends women rephrase their questions so the other person can understand. The result will be a better answer, she says.
3) Speak up. "Don’t be afraid to get your ideas and your opinions out there," Weigel says. "Women tend to see this as being aggressive."
4) Adapt to your client’s language, especially if you’re in sales. "Clients trust and like you the more you converge with their speech patterns," says Weigel.
5) Be more supportive when dealing with conflict in the workplace. "Describe the behaviors that you are having difficulties with, don’t evaluate them," advised Weigel.
Five common mistakes
According to Weigel, women can also learn from five common mistakes they tend to make in business:
1) They often are too self-effacing and compliant. "This comes across as being hyper-polite." Another example of being self-effacing is "pleasing others by minimizing their own skills," Weigel says.
2) They tend to be too compliant and allow themselves to be interrupted. Weigel suggests women "work at holding the floor. Present your case and be confident. Also, have your arguments ready."
3) They often apologize for things that are not their fault. "They think they are being polite, but it comes across as being weak," she says.
4) They tend to avert eye contact in business meetings. "Maintain eye contact," Weigel says.
5) They tend to take verbal aggressiveness personally. An example of verbal aggressiveness is when a man tells his two female coworkers, who are talking, to stop and get to work. The women may take it as a personal attack, when that wasn’t what the man meant. "Viewing verbal aggressiveness as personal, negative or destructive" is a common mistake women make, Weigel says.
To help more women in business overcome those mistakes and learn these skills, Weigel is writing
a book that she plans to be published in spring 2004. The subject of the book is language, gender and power in the workforce.
Sept. 5, 2003 Small Business Times, Milwaukee