Understanding How Women Communicate At Work

Not sure how to interpret a female co-worker's comments? Here are some tips that may help you to make sense of her communication style.

If you have female co-workers, you may sometimes wonder what some of their comments mean. Females can be intuitive, indirect, emotional, or uncertain at times. Others, however, may come across as assertive or dictatorial. The guidelines that follow may help to explain the ways that women communicate while on the job. Keep in mind that these insights are not meant to be stereotypical and do not apply to all women.

1. Women tend to be more verbal than men and think in terms of words and emotions. Research shows that women typically have a need to express about 25,000 words per day, while men express about half of that--12,000. Women often use affirming conversational markers like "oh?" or "Hmm." Men are generally good listeners but may not offer as much supplementary verbal support. They do, however, tell more off color jokes and use more profanity than most women.

2. Women rely on their emotions to assess a situation or person. Their brains are wired to accept stimuli from multiple sensory impressions, which can cause sensory overload, resulting in temporary confusion. This may lead to what some call "women's intuition," when a woman has "a feeling" about something or someone but can't put her finger on it because her mind is overloaded by stimuli. After she has had a chance to sort impressions, she may come to the realization of why something seems amiss--a guest's unmatched socks, for example, which can lead to a full-fledged observation or opinion.

3. Women enjoy being part of a team. At work, this means that they willingly share tasks and insight to get a job done. While some women pursue leadership roles, many others are content to serve from the sidelines as long as there is someone to chat with occasionally. Women enjoy communication for its own sake, while many men typically use talk as a tool to get things done.

4. Women may feel insecure about their job roles. This may be due to the fact that women have rather recently entered the work force, mainly in the past 30 to 40 years. They may have fewer female mentors and role models, and perhaps be a little nervous of a male supervisor, especially if they are surrounded by longstanding male co-workers. An illustration of verbal uncertainty is the use of tag questions. Instead of making a statement that can stand alone, female employees may add a short question at the end:

"The meeting starts at nine, doesn't it?"

"I think the project is coming along, don't you?"

5. Some women resent a female supervisor more than a male supervisor, which can lead to cattiness or communication problems. While researchers are still not sure of all possible reasons for this, some include the idea that female supervisors sometimes adopt masculine characteristics to compete with males, and thus alienate female employees. Another option is that women who enjoy team work may resent the female who stands head and shoulders above them.

6. Women typically have fewer health-related problems on the job than their male counterparts. Stress symptoms like job-related depression, substance abuse, and heart problems remain more male than female issues, but women are beginning to catch up. Women are better at controlling their emotions than many male supervisors, which may be one reason why they are less likely to fall prey to stress symptoms than men.

7. Many women resent the fact that fewer females have been able to get high ranking leadership roles. They are becoming more vocal in their demand for equal pay for equal work. The good news is that there are more mentors and job opportunities these days for women in traditional male occupations, like engineering and law. As women become more outspoken about their career expectations, changes are beginning to occur in their favor.

Women at work do not fit neatly into any one category. But understanding how many women communication while on the job can enhance understanding and promote more effective collaboration among employees.

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