Communication Cues: Men vs. Women

You’re probably aware that men and women communicate differently; this is a well-known truth. Often, however, we don’t take time to consider exactly how men and women communicate differently. When we look at communication styles on a specific level, we find that the cues each gender uses differ significantly.

What does this look like in a workplace setting? Let’s take a standard meeting as an example. If a man is in front of his colleagues, communicating, he likely has men and women listening. Each audience member will be different; but on the whole, male and female listeners will contribute to the conversation in gender-specific ways.

A woman listening in will communicate her attention by nodding, and saying things like, “Yes, I understand.” She may even interrupt and say, “That’s exactly what I was thinking!” She’s going to give lots of positive affirmation. She wants the speaker to know that, even if she doesn’t agree with his points, she’s tracking with him — she understands. This is to validate the viewpoint of the person speaking.

A man, on the other hand, primarily communicates approval with his cues. So, if he doesn’t agree with the speaker, he’s not going to do or say much of anything. If he does agree, he may nod. If he doesn’t agree, he’s going to say so. However, men rarely give encouragement for others to keep talking. It’s simply not the way they communicate.

It’s essential to recognize these differences. If a woman expects male listeners to engage like female listeners, she’ll feel disappointed — and perhaps even discouraged — when she’s met with a room full of silent audience members. Likewise, if a male leader expects women to engage like his fellow male leaders, he may feel surprised and even irritated when they interrupt and contribute in the middle of his talk.

This scenario only touches the surface of differences in communication between men and women; but it’s essential for us to recognize that we do give different cues.

Learning to respect and accept one another, even in our differences, is the key to developing more fully into the leaders we’re meant to become.

Have you seen distinct differences in communication cues between men and women? If so, in what ways?

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