Jane C Woods is former senior manager in the health sector, founder and CEO of http://www.changingpeople.co.uk/ and creator of the RenewYou personal development progamme for women. She spoke with great wit and wisdom about the differences in how men and women communicate. ‘It’s a topic,’ she says, ‘about which much tosh is produced. I am only interested in researched and evidenced facts and those are what I share. And I am most definitely not interested in teaching women to behave and speak like men. I want women to be women. I also want them to be heard.” Here are her top tips:
- Be very clear: Men tend to speak in headlines, while women like stories, giving the background to information. Be really clear about what you are saying, giving the headline first and supply any background later.
- Interrupting: Men interrupt women more than women interrupt men, even if the man is in a junior role – as one attendee attested. Or in the words of Professor Mary Beard, ‘They have not yet heard the authority in women’s voices.’ If you are interrupted, Jane suggests counter-interrupting with something like: “ I’ll just finish but I’ll be interested to hear what you have to say afterwards” Always counter an interruption and it will become easier each time.
- Don’t apologise: Dr Judith Baxter, senior lecturer of Applied Linguistics at Aston University, has studied how men and women communicate differently at board level and identified ‘double-voiced discourse’ (DvD). It involves anticipating the hidden agendas of colleagues and adjusting what you say in light of this. It can be a strength in predicting and diluting potential conflict, but it can make women sound apologetic or defensive and therefore lose authority. For example: ‘I’m sure you’ve thought of this before but I think that…’, and ‘this must sound perfectly obvious to you but...’ and ‘at the risk of sounding assertive’, and even ‘I will shut up, I’ve been speaking too much’. Never say sorry unless it’s really necessary, i.e. you’ve stepped on someone’s toe. You don’t need to apologise because you disagree, or want to add a point. You can read more about this here: http://www.changingpeople.co.uk/2011/inspirational-women-dr-judith-baxter/
- Fight, flight…or talk about it: The famous ‘flight or fight’ response, when our stress hormones kick in and either fire us up or make us run a mile, is based on research done on males. Women have a third response; the release of oxytocin, (sometimes called the love hormone. Women tend to bond more in a crisis and want to talk about things, often in private. Men find this difficult to understand. Jane recommends the book Duels and Duets: Why Men and Women Talk So Differently by John L. Locke, as further reading.
- Men don’t give much away in terms of facial expressions, but women can be ‘noisy’ listeners, making encouraging noises and nodding. This can come across as a bit submissive and an invitation to carry on, even if you disagree with what’s being said. Men nod only when they agree. Women nod to say ‘I understand, carry on,’ not that they agree. Very confusing messages for a chap.
- He can’t read your mind: Men recognise a smaller range of facial expressions than women. You may think your face is saying it all – but he won’t register it. (Jane gave an hilarious account of realising that she and her husband were inadvertently at a wife swapping party, and trying to communicate to him silently that they should leave.) You can turn this to your advantage though, by preempting what a man might be thinking and inviting him to speak, thus staying in control.
Own your space
- Speak very early on in meetings, to give yourself confidence. Men will notice, even if it’s a bit of small talk like asking to pass the water.
- Sit next to the most important person in the room – you will naturally fall into others’ line of sight. Key people are usually positioned in the middle of a group – think of wedding photos.
- Don’t sit with your back to the door, so that you are always aware of who’s coming and going.
- Don’t be afraid to stand up when you speak and own the space you are in.
- Accessories (yes, really): very high heels that make you totter and clumsy big handbags undermine your presence.
Finally NEVER make the tea.
Thanks to Wiggin LLC for their continued support in generously allowing us to use their lovely 14th floor room for the event.