Nearly ninety years after women won the right to vote, and thirty years after the height of the women’s movement, women in the workplace still earn 78 cents for every dollar a man earns. There are many reasons for this disparity – not the least of which is that men and women often talk a different language in the workplace. And if you’re not speaking the same language, your ideas don’t get heard and you don’t get the respect you deserve.
Short of carrying around a bullhorn at work, what can be done? Code Switching: How to Talk So Men Will Listen (2009, Alpha Books/Penguin Group) offers some straightforward suggestions that help both women and men hear – and understand – each other better. Its authors, Claire Damken Brown, Ph.D., and Audrey Nelson, Ph.D., provide how-to steps to help businesswomen conquer the communication nuances between men and women in the workplace.
Code Switching demonstrates how women can get male co-workers to take them more seriously by altering a few simple communication behaviors. (See www.CodeSwitching.biz to learn more).
1. Consistently offer your hand and use a firm, full-palm handshake. Touch changes the tenor of an interaction most dramatically, and the handshake is the only sanctioned business ritual that employs touch. To participate as full partners, women also have to participate in this business code.
2. Here’s a list of words that we wish would disappear from women’s speech (more evident in Gen X and Y women): the use of “like,” “you are the bomb,” and “you are a rock star.” Save it for the girlfriend lunch, not the corporate board meeting.
3. Don’t take it personally when he interrupts. It’s part of the way he talks with his buds. Be ready to direct the discussion back to you and your topic.
4. Say it in a sound bite. He asks you a question–give him a one word or one sentence answer. If he needs more information, he’ll ask. Then you can provide a few details. If he still needs more, he’ll ask again.
5. Congruency is key. Make sure your nonverbal message matches your verbal message. Don’t talk about the importance of upholding company policy and values, and then fall into the punch bowl at the sales awards banquet.
6. Initiate the conversation. Being the first to speak is being assertive. It communicates credibility and confidence, plus shows your initiative and interest in the person or meeting topic.
7. If you have a work lover, talk with him or her about the pros and cons of trying to keep it a secret. What do you have to gain or lose? Most important, get familiar with the company policy on dating. Yes, many organizations have dating policies in place and what employees should do if they become romantically involved.
8. If your audience composition is mostly men, lean more toward facts and primarily bullet style. Use statements like, “There are three ways this is going to impact the bottom line.” Then list them.
9. Be direct and say what you mean. Get rid of “I’d like to ask a question” and just ask your question. Instead of saying “Are you doing that?” tell the person directly your concerns about the project.
10. Ask. Aim high–very high–when you ask; it’s easier to come down than go up. If you don’t ask, you won’t get it. Ask for everything and you may get something. And something is better than nothing. Asking shows you’re in the game to stay.
Written by Claire Damken Brown, Ph.D. and Audrey Nelson, Ph.D., co-authors of Code Switching: How to Talk So Men Will Listen (2009, Alpha Books/Penguin Group), www.CodeSwitching.biz.
Claire Damken Brown, Ph.D., founder and president of Damken Brown and Associates, Inc., is a savvy diversity expert. She consults with organizations on cutting-edge practices that prevent harassment/discrimination, improve gender communication, resolve conflicts, and model cultural competency, creating workplaces where people stay and thrive.
Audrey Nelson, Ph.D., is an internationally recognized communication consultant and seminar leader, and head of Nelson Communication, a corporate communication company. She specializes in interpersonal skills, male/female communication, sexual harassment and discrimination, cultural diversity, and conflict management.
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