Helping business women speak their mind

Women have the potential to be great communicators; however their sensitivity can sometimes overshadow their objectivity and in the process they lose their assertiveness. Human Resources specialist Lizanne de Jong teaches women how to address work colleagues with confidence.

Lizanne starts by comparing male and female communication and points out some interesting distinctions.

“The first difference is seated in our cultural stories. In certain cultures where males dominate, women are submissive and don’t have a voice.”

These patterns are passed from one generation to another and become ingrained in the female psyche, often following women into business environments.

While there is a broad, societal difference in the way men and women communicate, there are also individual differences which are “nested in your own personality type”. Women are especially prone to making subjective decisions and battle to express their needs in an appropriate fashion.

Women tend to communicate to bond or share whereas men communicate to disseminate information or for problem solving purposes. “In our socialisation, women are more collaborative and friendly where men are more competitive and results driven,” says Lizanne.

The communication style that men use is overt and direct and little is hidden. Women prefer a covert or influential style and often revert back to childhood where girls ‘play nice’. This collaborative and accommodating style can be mistaken for a lack of confidence, indecisiveness and unwillingness to take the lead.

Lizanne refers to Goleman’s neuropsychology research which shows that women have a better ability at emotional empathy where men have a better ability at problem solving. This does not mean that men can not demonstrate emotional empathy or that women are not good at systems thinking, but there are definite biological differences.

The difference between the male and female brain and socialisation, impacts every facet of work including: relationship development, interpretation of conversation, conduct of and behaviour during meetings, conduct of negotiations, interpretation of performance feedback and handling of stress and conflict.

With all of these factors to consider the challenge for women is in adapting their style to a hierarchical business structure, to meet theprimary objective of business which is results.

Many women fall into the trap of overplaying ‘toughness’ but according to Lizanne “the biggest mistake a woman can make is to become like a man”. Instead women need to embrace their identity. Confidence in decision-making and judgement will also contribute to a more assertive communication style.

Women need to guard against the emotions that surround bonding with workers which make it difficult to deal with disciplinary matters, or personal decisions such as promotions or layoffs.

Body language is a critical element of communication. Tone of voice, eye contact and the way women project themselves are just as important as the words that are used.

“Women also need to know their rights and how to push for those rights to be respected by others.”

The Assertive Communication Skills for Women course deepens the understanding of using assertiveness in the workplace and addresses the reasons why women are not assertive. Participants will have the opportunity to practise their new assertive skills during practical exercises.

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