Today, women in corporate America are occupying more significant roles than their counterparts a decade ago. However, problems in gender equality still resonate in the corporate world. It seems like women do not get the same recognition their male equals do. While these issues are perceived as elements of the age-old problem of gender discrimination, Tannen explores the possibility that the issue is communication-related and not gender-based.According to Tannen, men and women have different communication styles. Men are trained early in life to use language to their advantage. Boys are raised to promote their status in the group, display their abilities and knowledge, challenge others, resist challenges and take the center stage.
On the other hand, girls downplay their roles and emphasize ways in which they could be equal with their friends in order to avoid being called “bossy.” This upbringing developed different approaches in the way they communicate with other people.The more profound impact of this habit not only affects communication skills and the confidence level people project when talking to other people but also directs the course of their careers.
In the corporate world, while the men effortlessly slide to fit the mold of the skilled, confident and in-charge managers, women are held back by their desire to buffer situations and not hurt other people. While men take their chances to sell their good points and establish “one up” advantage, women take the “one down” hand to avoid stepping into other people’s boundaries. It’s a natural course for men to assume center roles but not for women.Some women bosses speak and manage like their male counterparts. This could be their way of adapting to their roles. The corporate world is dominantly a “male” and the rules adhere to the male gender. The few women who dared had to play by the rules and imbibe the characteristics expected of the job.
While this is not a natural course for women, some of the more successful managers had found a way to escape the limitations of their upbringing. However, such adoption of roles is not always accepted. People have different expectations about how women and men bosses communicate. An acceptable and normal approach for a male manager may raise objections and negative reactions coming from a female boss. Not only are people brought up differently, they also develop different and biased expectations from their bosses and equals that could alter the meanings. The same thing spoken by different people could convey different meanings. In group discussions, it is not what was spoken but how it was spoken that determines whose ideas get noticed.
Another problem of communication lies in the cultural differences. We tend to associate confidence and knowledge level with the way people project themselves while talking. We have a perceived notion of how confidence look and sound like. However, each culture has a unique way of developing the communication skills of people. People from minority groups have a distinct way of expressing themselves which could convey different meanings.
What we perceive to be discrimination issues about colored managers, managers from minority religions, old and young managers, disabled, gay or lesbians could be the results of their upbringing, cultural defects and our own biased expectations.Communication style has more impact on the roles we play in the society than we might have given it credit for. A better understanding of our distinct communication approaches might solve some of the issues related to gender problems and discriminations in the office.
By addressing the problems about communication, we can deal with the issues in their proper places and resolve the communication barriers instead of moping about the inequalities of the world. We can better understand each other by understanding how we communicate our thoughts and the meanings we associate with the things we say and do.ReferenceTannen, Deborah. (1995 September-October).
The Power of Talk: Who gets heard and why? Harvard Business Review, pp. 138-148.