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Whether you're a seasoned professional or just starting your career, let The Girls Guide to Power and Success launch you to new heights.
Copyright © 2003 Susan Wilson Solovic
All right reserved.
THE POWER OF COMMUNICATING LIKE a PRO
It's Not about What You Say-It You Say It
The process of understanding the evolution of defined gender roles in our society and the concomitant prejudice is both enlightening and empowering. However, we must recognize that it is difficult to change these deeply ingrained attitudes. That is why it is equally important to examine what women do to undermine their own personal success. We have the power to take control of our own destiny and modify our behavior to enhance our ability to succeed.
Most women take pride in being good communicators. Ironically, communication is one of the areas where women frequently stumble in the business world. Men and women spend 85 to 90 percent of their time communicating with others. Your style of communication says a lot about who you are. It offers telltale signs of where you are from, your educational level, your interests, and your values. Gender has a significant impact on the way you communicate. Starting at an early age, men and women learn different communication styles. Communicative behaviors that are considered acceptable for little boys are frequently frowned upon for little girls. Boys are taught to be goal-oriented and competitive. Girls learnto be open, to share their feelings, and to be accommodating. Many people believe that girls develop a style of communication that reflects their traditional role in society-that is, to be nurturing and deferential.
Whitney Johns Martin, the CEO of Capital Across America and a past president of the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), says she notices a difference when women contact her company to talk about borrowing money. "They discuss a lot of personal issues like a problem with their marriage or a problem with their children. But men are not as open about these kinds of issues. They don't bring the personal issues to the table. I can relate to what the women are saying, and I understand. To the men in my company though, that openness is an unusual style of communication."
Which style of communication is better-male or female? Neither. Both styles have distinct advantages and disadvantages, depending on the circumstances. The problem arises when men and women fail to understand and accommodate gender communication differences, and unfortunately, that is more often than not. Typically, men and women stubbornly cling to an exclusive style and never take time to understand the other gender.
You are probably familiar with the popular book Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus written by John Gray. Gray says the reason men and women have difficulty communicating with one another is that we originate from different planets-hence the title of the book. The idea that men and women literally come from different worlds makes great fodder for cocktail party chatter. But in business, it's no laughing matter.
Men and women may not come from separate plants, but we do come from different cultures, and we have different perspectives of the world. With that in mind, when you focus on gender communications you should depersonalize the situation. It requires an objective viewpoint and the realization that you are dealing with two individuals from separate cultures trying to communicate with one another. Communication specialists refer to it as intercultural communication. Intercultural communication is defined as "whenever a message producer is a member of one culture and a message receiver is a member of another."
Linda Jacobsen, CEO of Global Vision Strategies, travels worldwide teaching business executives how to conduct inter cultural business affairs. She describes gender communications in the following way: "It's not enough to look at this as just a male/female issue. You need to begin to think culturally, and when you look at it from this broad perspective, you'll begin to see how the layers need to be very gently opened up. It's kind of like peeling the layers of an onion and trying not to cry. It can be a very delicate issue."
Therefore, to become a more effective communicator, you must begin by opening your mind and exploring the subtleties, nuances, and preferences of a foreign culture, the male culture, as if you were preparing to do business in a foreign country. Erase all the preconceived notions you have about how men communicate and avoid being judgmental. Pointing fingers and joking about how men just don't understand might get a good laugh when you're having lunch with the girls, but such behavior isn't productive. Male bashing is an emotional reaction that creates an us-against-them scenario. "I don't mind that once in a while. In fact, it can be a little humorous at times. But we can't wind up blaming men all the time. The traditional male style of communication offers a certain amount of stability. We as women need to be more well-rounded," said Barbara Dressel, CEO of Automark, an international machine-marking company.
Successful and powerful women are too sophisticated to play the us-against-them game. They recognize the need to mainstream and to adjust their communication style appropriately. I refer to it as the skill of accommodation, which is a critical business skill because it not only enhances gender communications but also facilitates all types of communications. Communication gaps occur as a result of a myriad of factors such as age, race, religion, and national origin. Learning to accommodate for communication differences gives you the upper hand. Depersonalizing male/female communications is the first step. The second step involves examining your personal communication style to identify your weak areas. For the most part, women share some general communication patterns that impede their effectiveness in business communications. Identifying these areas and learning to adjust your personal style is an important element if you want to communicate like a true professional.
You are probably asking yourself why women are the ones who must bend and accommodate. Clearly, men should also recognize the need to be more flexible. The good news is an increasing number of men are interested in learning how to enhance their communications with women. That is encouraging news, but what incentive do men have to change since they are the ones in control? It now appears that their dominance is eroding. The percentage of white males in the workforce is decreasing, and soon, white males will be outnumbered by women and minorities. Nonetheless, for now, you have an opportunity to leverage your power and enhance your success by fine-tuning the way you communicate.
The skill of accommodation requires the ability to focus on the listener. Whatever you do, don't be guilty of gender generalizations. Keep in mind that not all women and men fit into stereotypical categories, so you should pay close attention and adjust accordingly.
"You have to switch the focus off yourself, and focus on the listener. You can tell by their body language and their eye contact and just everything, whether they're tuned in and they get it or whether you're turning them off or you're getting resistance. Play to the audience," says Iris Salsman, a principal in the public relations company of Salsman Lundgren.
Learning to be flexible and accommodating in your communications is one of those things that is much easier said than done. It takes lots of practice and a dedicated effort, but you will reap the rewards of mastering this skill.
Speak the Same Language
Have you ever had a conversation with someone where you really seemed to hit it off? You felt an immediate connection. One of the reasons you felt that way was because your communication styles were compatible and you were speaking the same language.
Perhaps you find it odd to talk about speaking the same language when the majority of people in this country speak English. But there are many words in the English language that mean the same or similar things. Additionally, we all have varied interests, and we reflect those interests in conversational content. So when you are communicating with someone and you want to connect with him or her, you must listen carefully so you can choose your words and structure content in a way that builds confidence and rapport.
For example, sometimes variances in language may depend on where you are from. What do you call a soft drink? A soda? A pop? Different industries utilize terms that basically mean the same thing. For example, a lawyer may be retained, while an artist is commissioned. As a sophisticated communicator, your task is to listen closely so that you can mirror the language. By doing so, you establish a bond with the other person and signal that you are familiar with the geographic area, industry, or business.
Additionally, conversation is peppered with content-laden messages that reflect personal interests. To connect with someone, pay attention to clues and use them to help facilitate your message. A classic example is sports. Men talk a lot about sports, and they use sports analogies and terminology to structure their messages. Therefore, to understand the conversational nuances if you are not a sports fan, you should familiarize yourself with sports terms so that you don't miss the meaning of messages such as:
"We're gearing up for a full-court press."
"I'm playing quarterback on this one."
"It looks like we're going to have to punt."
Personally, I don't like sports. I don't know a hockey puck from a baseball. Nonetheless, I have learned the lingo because that is the way a lot of men I work with communicate. I stay current on hot sports topics so that I can manage sports-related chitchat and sound as though I know what I'm talking about. It works. Speak the language and you will be seen as an insider-one of the guys-and your effort will be appreciated. Don't risk striking out.
The Saga of thible Woman
Women are to be seen and not heard-soft-spoken, demure little creatures. Certainly, we have all encountered men in the business world who see women as little more than arm decorations, with nothing to add other than their beauty. For example, remember Senator Strom Thurmond's comment when Senator Mary Landrieu joined the Armed Forces committee: "We've got some pretty women on here this time."
There is a media-driven obsession with the female sizzle but not the substance, as is evidenced by the superstar status of the Victoria's Secret models. Can you imagine becoming successful merely because you look good in your underwear? That is not the kind of success today's powerful women aspire to. Yet, the media plays the same old song over and over again-judge women by their looks and men by what they say. Do you remember how the press chronicled First Lady Hillary Clinton's hairstyles? There was no similar review of the hairstyle preferences of President Clinton, Newt Gingrich, or Ted Kennedy. The result of this excessive attention on women's physical appearance is that men are conditioned to focus on what women look like, rather than on what they have to say. They don't take women seriously, which creates a formidable obstacle for us.
Have you ever been in a meeting with a group of men and offered a suggestion that is completely ignored, only to watch it enthusiastically accepted when a man introduces the same idea a few minutes later? When I ask women in my seminars that question, there is an audible groan. Everyone has a story to tell. As the first female named to a vice president's position with one of the country's largest advertising agencies, Beverly Berner found that her ideas often fell on deaf ears. "One of the men would take my idea and just shift it ever so slightly and all of a sudden it became a great idea, and I'd be sitting there thinking, 'Well where did you think that came from?' Sometimes, because of the nature of the creative process, I saw it happen to men, but not that often," she explained.
It is the saga of the invisible woman. Women are invisible because of personal bias-an attitude that women aren't serious players in the business world. Some Neanderthal men refuse to accept women as coworkers, bosses, or decision makers. Therefore, anything we have to say gets filtered through a screen of antiquated perceptions, and by the time it is actually received, it has little significance.
Donna Vandiver runs a multimillion-dollar public relations and strategic-planning company. By any standards, she is a successful business professional. As the only woman participating in a chamber-sponsored business group, Vandiver found she completely disappeared when the male chair began to solicit ideas during a brainstorming session.
"I couldn't believe it. He presented the problem and then started going around the table asking for input. It was an area where I knew I had experience and some good ideas, but when it was my turn, he skipped me," Vandiver recalled. "My first thought was I'm not going to share my ideas with him. Finally, I decided to elbow my way in and make him listen to me. Before long he was writing down some of my recommendations. This guy is only forty-two years old, and it's hard for him to see women as anything but a secretary or someone to fetch coffee, and I just couldn't let him get away with it."
Women are out there, and like Vandiver, we can't let men get away with making us invisible. One way we can crack the invisible shield is to wield a more powerful presentation style. Earlier, I explained that women learn communication behaviors that reflect their role in society. They are taught to be soft-spoken and demure around the opposite sex. However, the business world is no place to be ladylike-whatever that means. The soft, breathy Marilyn Monroe voice might have its place, but not in the boardroom. It makes you appear timid, shy, and unsure of yourself, which impacts your credibility and professionalism.
Turn up the volume. Speak in a manner that commands attention. If your natural speaking voice is soft, there are exercises you can perform to strengthen it. Powerful voice control comes from your diaphragm, the muscle beneath your rib cage. Like any muscle, however, it needs exercise to enhance its strength. Have you ever noticed the thick waistlines on even the thinnest opera singers? That is because they have an extremely developed diaphragm muscle.
To strengthen your diaphragm, practice breathing deeply and pushing out your voice from your stomach area. You should actually be able to see your stomach expand and deflate. It may hurt a little at first, but as they say-no pain, no gain.
Voice tonality is another issue. Typically, women speak at a higher pitch than men do, making it more difficult for them to be heard. When you add a little nervousness and emotion to the situation, your vocal pitch can go even higher.
Excerpted from The Girls' Guide to Power & Success by Susan Wilson Solovic Copyright © 2003 by Susan Wilson Solovic. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted January 5, 2003
This book is a wonderful guide of how to break through the "glass ceiling" to gain confidence, power, and ultimately, success. I highly recommend this be read by any aspiring businesswoman or woman currently in a leadership role.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.