The dangers of acting like a man

Women tend to overcompensate in their desire to be seen as strong, confident professionals and as a result alienate both male and female work colleagues. Human Resources specialist Lizanne de Jong teaches women how to address work colleagues appropriately.

Many women fall into the trap of overplaying ‘toughness’ in the workplace but according to de Jong “the biggest mistake a woman can make is to become like a man”.

Women have the potential to be great communicators; however there is a tendency for them to behave almost aggressively in their efforts to move away from the submissive character adopted throughout history.

De Jong advises women to embrace their identity. Women can only tap into their communication ability once they accept their strengths and weaknesses and build on that.

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.

These differences are not to be ignored or despised but should rather be embraced by both sides.

“Some of these differences are also 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 the business world.

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 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.

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 suit the modern workplace and meet the primary objective of business which is results.

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.

Confidence in decision-making and judgement will also contribute to a more assertive communication style.

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