Ever hear the expression 'men are from Mars and women are from Venus?' Victor is a business owner, and he believes that's true. He thinks that women communicate differently from men and isn't always sure how to talk to his female employees.
Communication involves the ways that people express themselves to others and can be verbal (like talking) or nonverbal (like writing or body language). Needless to say, communication is a major part of running a business, so if Victor is right, it's important for people of different genders to learn to communicate well with each other.
But is he right? Do men and women communicate differently, and if so, how? To help Victor out, let's take a look at stereotypes of gender communication and what the research says about the differences in genders. Then, we'll look at why differences might exist.
Stereotypes and Research
Victor thinks that men and women communicate differently in the workplace. Is he right?
Well, sort of. Research has shown that there are some differences in the way that men and women communicate. But, the first thing that Victor needs to understand is that the within-group differences in communication styles are wider than between-group differences. That is, if you look at a group of all women (or a group of all men), there is more variety in the ways that they communicate compared to each other than if you lump men and women together and compare them based solely on gender. So, while there are differences between how men and women communicate, there is even more diversity between women than between women and men.
Still, there are some stereotypes, or ideas about a group that are widely believed but oversimplified (and often wrong), about the different genders and their communication. It's important that Victor understand what those stereotypes are so he can begin to see the ways that they impact communication within his organization. Specifically, stereotypes say that women are passive, quiet, nurturing, group-oriented, and intuitive. In contrast, male stereotypes include assertive, competitive, and logical thinking and communication.
So, are these stereotypes true? Again, sort of. Research has shown that women tend to listen to others more than men do. They also tend to ask for (and take) feedback more than men, and tend to be more self-effacing. While men might respond to Victor saying, 'Great job!' by saying, 'Thanks, I worked hard,' women might respond to the same comment with, 'Well, it was a team effort.'
Because of these differences, women can sometimes be perceived in business differently from men. For example, studies have shown that women are talked about more negatively for being assertive than men. Anyone who's ever heard a woman called pushy while her male colleague is seen as a leader for the same communication style understands that.
Victor understands that women and men are individuals and are as different from people of their same gender as they are of people from the opposite gender. But, he also understands that research has shown some differences across genders. Still, he's not sure what to do. How does he deal with different communication styles? The most important thing that Victor can do is to listen to each person as they communicate and try to hear the communication without focusing on the gender of the person speaking. It's also important for him to recognize that everyone, regardless of their gender or communication style, can bring value to his company.
Victor feels like he understands how men and women can sometimes be different in their communication styles. But now, he's more curious than ever. Why are there differences in the way that men and women communicate? There are many different theories about gender differences. Two of the most popular are social learning theory and the biological differences theory.
Social learning theory says that people learn in childhood how to be male or female from others around them, particularly parents and other influential adults. Basically, this theory says that women are 'taught' to be nurturing, to work to make people like them, and to be self-effacing. On the other hand, men are 'taught' to be assertive and competitive.
Victor can see social learning theory at work by watching kids play. Often, if a girl gets hurt, they are held and comforted. In contrast, when boys get hurt, they are often told to 'shake it off' and discouraged from crying or showing weakness. These messages come from parents, teachers, and even their peers.
Support for social learning theory can be found in the fact that different cultures have different communication styles. For example, in America (and most Western countries), men in business communicate in an assertive and competitive style, as we've already seen. But in Asian countries, businessmen communicate in a more self-effacing manner. This is because those cultures do not value assertiveness and independence as much as American culture does. As a result, boys are 'taught' to communicate and behave differently there than they are here.
But social learning theory isn't the only idea about why men and women might communicate differently. The biological differences theory says that there are inherent, biological differences between men and women that make them different. Victor can see evidence for this in the media, which often touts new research about brain differences between boys and girls. For example, some studies have shown that there are gender differences in the region of the brain responsible for empathy in kids as young as 8 or 9 years old. Specifically, girls have more activity in that region than boys. This seems to support the biological differences theory and the stereotype that girls are more empathetic and nurturing than boys.
But, there are two things to remember with studies like this one. The first is what we've already discussed about research before: the within-groups variation is more pronounced than the between-groups variation. Some boys have very well-developed empathy centers of the brain, while some girls do not.
Another important thing to know is that neuroplasticity, or the brain's ability to change, might play a role here. The more you use an area of the brain, the more active it becomes. By the time a child is eight or nine, they've already received many messages about how girls should be nurturing and boys should be strong. So their brain differences might be a result of that training, not something they were born with.
Either way, it's important for Victor and others to understand that the differences that do exist, both between and within genders, make for a stronger, more diverse workforce.
Communication is the ways that people express themselves to others and can be verbal or nonverbal. Research has shown that there are some differences in the way that men and women communicate. But within-group differences in communication styles are wider than between-group differences. Stereotypes, or ideas about a group that are widely believed but often oversimplified, about the different genders and their communication include that women are passive, quiet, nurturing, group-oriented, and intuitive. In contrast, male stereotypes include assertiveness, competitiveness, and logical thinking and communication.
There are many different theories about gender differences. Two of the most popular are social learning theory, which says that people learn in childhood how to be male or female from others around them, and the biological differences theory, which says that there are inherent, biological differences between men and women that make them different.
After this video, you should be able to:
- Explain what gendered communication is
- Distinguish between stereotypes of gendered communication and the research that's been done
- Consider the theories behind why women and men may differ in their communication styles
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- Consider a time you had a difficult conversation with a boss at your job or your teacher. Describe the conversation. What specific verbal communication stood out to you? What about non-verbal communication? Did this person exhibit some non-verbal communication that contradicted their verbal communication? Or were the two in sync?
- As it relates to communication, think of a stereotype that you had for both males and females that you determined was false as you got older. Discuss these stereotypes that you had and what happened that made you change your mind about that stereotype.
- List and describe three gender stereotypes about communication that some people believe, but you do not. Why do you not believe in these stereotypes? Why do you believe others hold these beliefs?
- List and describe three gender stereotypes about communication that you currently hold. These can either be about your gender, the opposite gender, or examples from both. Why do you believe these stereotypes are true?
- Consider a communication style difference that you have observed between males and females. Describe this difference. Do you think this difference is likely explained by the social learning theory or the biological differences theory? In addition to why you believe the chosen theory is the correct one, you should also define the theory.
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