Good communication is vital in all business. It’s particularly important when dealing with clients and with staff. Making sure that you are speaking a common language is number one to successful communication; and while men and women may speak a common tongue, the words we choose, the tone we take and our phrasing can be worlds apart.

When communicating within our own gender we take shortcuts, we understand instinctively, and we are unaware of the unconscious biases we might have. We might in fact be losing the people who would suit our businesses best – both as clients and as staff.

Listen carefully

Typically, it is said that men talk to give information or report; women talk to collect information or gain rapport. Men focus on facts, reason and logic; women focus on feelings, senses and meaning. Men are more assertive; women are more co-operative.

It is important to understand how to interpret the language that the different genders use.

Women will often use inclusive language such as “team” or “we” when men will say “I”. Men tend to understand that they didn’t achieve alone, but still focus on their own contribution. Women, on the other hand, look at the team effort and don’t want to exclude anyone.

There are male and female colleagues, staff and bosses. We need to work together and make sure we are getting the best from each other.

In business, we also need to make sure we are communicating in the right way to our clients – both men and women, who come from a range of diverse backgrounds.

Understanding what men and women say, why they say it, and how to work around these language differences to reach a common understanding can be greatly beneficial for our businesses and careers.

So in the spirit of understanding how most of us operate, here are some general things I’ve learned.

Women say things like…

1. I think, I suggest, I feel, I recommend

Women want to be liked, to be inclusive and to engage. We will not be forceful in our speech, because we don’t want to be seen as pushy or opinionated. This doesn’t mean that we are less sure or able than a man. Maybe women should use stronger words and take the initiative to lead; but not taking a woman seriously because of soft language may exclude a valuable contribution to a team or business.

2. I’m not sure

Saying “I’m not sure” is disempowering and displays a lack of confidence. However, it should be realised that this is often a female default in language, not an actuality. Women should perhaps consider what it is we’re not sure about and consider a more positive response such as, “I’ll come back to you on the detail”, “Let me check that”, “I will have to do more research”, or “We’re confirming that now”. Men should encourage women
to use stronger language; and on hearing wishy-washy language should perhaps try to see beyond it.

3. I’ll try

Again, women will use words like this. It’s not good enough. Women need to say we’ll do it, and then get on with it. Men need to understand what women mean and perhaps encourage women to change this language and to commit.

Words women should consider carefully before using

1. Yes

There are times and places to use this word. Yes, I will apply for the role even though I believe I’m only 50 per cent qualified. Yes, I will take the promotion. Yes, I will accept the opportunity.

2. No 

No, I don’t have the capacity to do that work (when you are stretched to the limit). No, I can’t take on more responsibility without reward. No, this is not what I do.

3. Sorry

Try to remove this word from your everyday language. Sorry, I’m late. Sorry, I should have come back to you sooner. Sorry, I have another meeting at that time. Sorry, I will have to leave at 3pm. While it’s important to be polite, there is no need to apologise for everything you are unable to do because of timetable clashes or other work. If you listen to men and women in business, the men will give the facts, the women will make apologies. Stop.

There are many more examples of this language difference; but as long as we’re aware, it may cease to be a barrier to better working environments for everyone.

The Stella Network is an initiative of BT Financial Group

Join the discussion