Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Women do!

In answer to yesterday's question, "Who uses "conditional" language more, men or women?" Women do! Why?

Women are more collaborative. They communicate to build relationships; whereas, men communicate for power and position. These differences are cited in the work of Deborah Tannen. I have pasted some of her findings here:

Talk to emphasize status
Talk to preserve independence
Talk to separate and differentiate
Talk to control and offer solutions
Talk more directly
Talk to boast
Consider indirectness “sneaky”
Avoid apology; consider it “weak”

Talk to create connection
Talk to create intimacy and closeness
Talk to seek and give confirmation
Talk to connect (not to solicit advice)
Talk more indirectly
Talk to achieve balance
Consider indirectness “less aggressive”
Apologize readily to “restore balance”

(“You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation,” D. Tannen, Ballantine Books, NY, 1991)

So, it is not unusual to hear a woman say, "We could discuss the budget at our Tuesday meeting." Or, it is not unusual to have her write a similar sentiment in an e-mail message. She'll use the "would, could, should, may, and might" words because she wants connection and balance. She knows she can achieve that with indirect language.

Likewise, the fine people from the Orient and from India will address you in the same way. They truly do want consensus and balance. But, as I suggested, it can work against them in a culture such as American business. In fact, one of my clients with a large Indian workforce told me to encourage its employees to "push back" on their clients. When they said "push back," they meant be more assertive, more direct. And, why does this company want their employees to push back on their customers? Well, for only one legitimate reason - their customers want them to push back. They don't want them rolling over all the time.

Now, having said that women and Orientals and Indians use the conditional more than everyone else, I must add that this is true in general. Certainly, many women have a more masculine approach to communication and many Oriental and Indian business people don't roll over for anyone. But, on the whole, these stereotypes fit.

What's the takeaway, as they say? Watch your language. Watch your word choice. Examine your messages. If you find yourself using "would, could, should, may and might," think about the context and your objectives. You could be using the wrong words; you might just want to change; you may find yourself with more respect in which case you should change. If you do, I know you would thank me!

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