Corrections or additions?
These articles by Kathleen McGinn Spring were prepared for the May
23, 2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Gender Differences In Business Communications
Kirstin Carey and her mother talk while shopping,
walking, doing errands — sometimes all three at once. By contrast,
Carey has bared her soul to her father while he was watching
only to have him turn to her after a few minutes and ask "Did
you say something?"
Carey, owner of Small Talk Marketing and Communications Inc. in East
Norriton, Pennsylvania, says these interactions illustrate the
in the ways men and women communicate, and can be the reason many
women hit a glass ceiling in business. "Men and women have
skills that are very different," Carey says. Men tend to
on just one thing at a time, while women can listen attentively to
conversation at the same time they scan the paper, listen to CNBC,
and notice which employees are sneaking off for yet another cigaret
Carey speaks on "Powerful Communication Skills for Women"
at the Central Jersey Women’s Network on Thursday, May 24, at 6 p.m.
at the Cherry Hill Holiday Inn. Cost: $25. Call 908-281-9234.
Carey says business misunderstandings because of a mismatch of
skills between the sexes are common, and often cause men to think
women are weak, indecisive, and uninformed, and women to think men
are not paying attention to what they are saying. Understanding how
the opposite sex speaks — and listens — can go a long way
toward smoothing communication. Carey says women tend to take in all
sorts of peripheral information, while men bore more deeply into the
subject at hand.
She cites a study in which men and women were put in front of a
news special. Quizzed about the program afterward, women were able
to go on and on about the reporter’s race, size, appearance, and
They could describe people who walked across the set, the background,
and colors that appeared in the broadcast. "Men," Carey says,
"could tell you only what the program was about." And while
they did not take in incidental details, the men came away with more
information about the subject of the program.
Perhaps the most glaring, and problematic, disparity in listening
styles occurs in one-on-one business conversation with no
As a men and women stand talking, women rely heavily on non-verbal
cues, nodding and smiling as they listen. Men tend to think it is
polite to remain silent as they listen, and fail to provide those
non-verbal encouragements. Women, interpreting the silence as a loss
of interest, clam up. As women stop adding to the conversation, men
assume it is because of their brilliant, insightful comments, and
talk all the more. Women, meanwhile, deciding their conversational
partners are rude, withdraw. "There is a perception that women
are the gabbers," Carey says, "but men dominate
Carey finds communication to be the most fascinating part of business.
She started out as a business major at West Chester State (Class of
1996), but switched to speech and communications, and "learned
more about business there, about why people are persuaded to buy."
She started her marketing career as a college sophomore when she
for her future husband’s promotional business. Tom Carey, a fellow
West Chester student, had begun his first start-up, which sold hats
and T-shirts to groups.
After graduation, Carey "did the corporate thing," working
for a series of small companies. Sometimes she was hired to do sales,
and other times to do marketing, but at each job she found herself
starting up marketing departments or initiating marketing projects.
She enjoyed the work, but after a few years returned to work for her
husband, who had added a legal courier company to his business
Soon her husband’s clients began to ask her for marketing advice.
By 1998, there was so much demand that she started her marketing and
communications company, which caters to companies with fewer than
As she began to see common issues in clients’ companies, Carey started
to write and speak on marketing and communications topics. Her book,
Marketing a Small or Growing Business on a Shoestring Budget, has
just been published.
Her advice to women on communicating effectively, whether as business
owners or corporate employees, includes the following:
meetings, women generally stay seated when they speak, Carey says.
But men stand when they have something to say in a meeting, and women
should too. "It shows power," she says. "Whoever’s head
is higher has the most power." Women need to remember this
fact in their offices, too. If employees comes in to vent, for
women often stay seated as they listen to their complaints. Instead,
Carey says, they need to ask the employee to sit down, or they
have to stand.
usually present the agenda right up front, whereas women just start
talking. "They may have an agenda," Carey says of women
"but they don’t make it clear." She suggests that women start
a talk by saying something like: "Today I want to talk about three
areas, budget constraints, hiring plans, and new expense account
requirements." Then it is a good idea to give the audience an
idea of how long the meeting will last, and at what time they can
expect a break. "That way," says Carey,"they won’t be looking
at their watches." Setting forth an agenda in this way indicates that
the speaker is in control.
"They use baseball or football." Women don’t have to adopt
the sports analogies, but coming up with some sort of analogy —
perhaps a tapestry, Carey suggests, or a machine — helps listeners
understand what they are talking about and remember important
sentences with `I’ and follow it with a word like `think’ or
Carey says. Replace "`I believe the product will work well for
you’ with `The product will work well for you,’" she says. It’s
the way men speak, and it conveys confidence. Carey says women insert
a word like `believe’ because they "want to let people know `It’s
okay for you to disagree with me’." Women are sensitive to
and want to make sure everyone gets a chance to add comments. Men
often interpret this conversational style as a sign that women are
not sure of themselves.
Carey says. "It makes us feel bad." Instead, women tend to
take on project after project. If a superior asks a woman to head
up a task force or write a report, she often believes it is a
request. But, in fact, Carey says, the boss may be just trying to
ascertain whether she has time for something else and may be quite
happy to look for another volunteer. Whether or not this is the case,
taking on too much work out of an inability to enunciate a two-letter
word sabotages women, setting them up for failure.
the inflection at the end of all of their sentences, turning them
into questions. Carey says this common speech pattern leaves listeners
room to say "it’s not okay." And while this accommodating
style feels right to business women, it sends a message to their male
colleagues that they are not sure of themselves. "You have to
talk like you know what you’re talking about," Carey says.
communication skills," Carey says. "We have to learn to be
Corrections or additions?
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