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

100 employees.

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:

Stand up. Even in formal business settings like board

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.

Speak in bullet points. When men address a meeting, they

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.

Use analogies. "Men are good at this," Carey says.

"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


Root out "feeling" words. "Women tend to start

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.

Say "No." "Women don’t know how to say


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.

Don’t turn sentences into questions. Women often raise

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.

"Women are hitting glass ceilings because we have very weak

communication skills," Carey says. "We have to learn to be

more powerful."

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