Most women strive to come across as confident and competent in their careers and relationships. But do you know the messages you might be sending without even realizing it? Studies show that women fall back on certain “feminine” communication behaviors that could have negative effects on their perceived credibility. The fact that these behaviors are even labeled as feminine is a major part of the problem. Without realizing it and in order to avoid being “masculine”, women adopt certain behaviors that undermine their own initiative. Our intentions are good, but the effects can be undesirable – so lets try to break these habits!
1) Qualifying – A common speaking technique used by women to counter balance being direct. Examples: “I could be wrong, but…”, “I think this seems like a good idea.”, and “Does that make sense?” Of course there is nothing wrong with being candid with people and asking questions, but if you feel definite about something, why use the disclaimer? Drop the question mark and stand firmly for your point.
2) Chit – chat – Talking to fill gaps to make you and everyone around you more comfortable. This may be a part of your personality and charm, but it can come off as unprofessional – at work people are likely looking for the bottom line. Chatting and giggling your way through a conversation isn’t just making people feel more comfortable, its making you look less credible.
3) Small voice – How often do you hear a man described as “soft-spoken”? I’ll answer – not often. Of course part of the reasoning for this is biological, but there are definitely other social and learned factors. In trying to maintain femininity, women may adopt an artificially breathy, smaller, even sexier voice without realizing it. Women with louder voices can be considered abrasive and displeasing, but a soft-spoken woman is perceived as nonthreatening and unconvincing. Assert yourself, ladies!
4) “Feminine” E-Communication – There are a few patterns of communication through email that women use to soften the blow of negative feedback and ease conflict. Emoticons, exclamation points, and typed representations of sounds (ex. hmmm, sooo, grrr) are used to convey the feelings and emotions in your words. Your intention is to better direct your audience to your meaning, but often these can make you come across as childish and incompetent. My advice is to just to be aware of when you use these and to whom you’re sending them.
Now before getting defensive, I have a confession – I have been guilty of all of these! And this doesn’t mean that I have to change myself or my personality. But now that I am aware of how my communication patterns can be interpreted, I know I might be sending mixed messages, and I’m going to be conscious of it and attempt to monitor them. And look at it this way – with small changes we can begin to re-write the definition of femininity from wilting and apologetic to confident and strong!
For more interesting topics about communication and women, visit www.PsychologyToday.com and read gender communication specialist Audrey Nelson’s blog, He Speaks, She Speaks.