Getting Past the Myths of “Women Can’t”
Remember “Mean are from Mars and Women are from Venus”? Family therapist John Gray was hardly the first to insist communication problems are gender-based. In fact, Gray’s pop-psychology tome of the early 90’s simply gave way to decades of popular psychology about the supposed female deficit communicating from the executive suite.
For many women trying to climb the corporate ladder, the takeaway unfortunately has been that communicating “like a man” would be essential to success. A whole marketplace of communication training now exists, based on the notion of fixing” women’s supposed lack of professional communication skills.The only thing wrong with the concept is that it’s bunk.
Even if you don’t believe the research debunking gender communication differences in the brain (i.e.one of many studies such as the Purdue study finding gender differences even in interpersonal communication smaller than differences between individuals , or a 2015 brain scan study debunking the popular notion of gender brain differences www.newscientist.com/article/dn28582-scans-prove-theres-no-such-thing-as-a-male-or-female-brain/), it’s hard to set aside widely held notions of a female disadvantage in workplace communication skills.
The healthier reality I’ve observed in coaching hundreds of executives to success, is that there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between the communication problems of the sexes.
There’s nothing actually gender-specific about confidence or clarity—two essentials for powerful public communication. The ability to maintain eye contact or to speak thoughtfully using direct and powerful language is gender neutral. Certainly it would be difficult to correlate gender to the ability to speak with conviction and passion—all hallmarks of powerful and persuasive communication.
What I see instead is an array of common communication problems. Highly successful executives of both genders often have trouble knowing what to leave out, how to explain complex ideas without overwhelming an audience, how to motivate, how to project confidence, how to communicate powerfully and portray authenticity. Both male and female executives often complain when seeking help about not having a “natural” talent for communicating, by which they mean, it fills them with anxiety (particularly when the stakes are high). Of course nature and talent aren’t what’s called for here; preparation and hard work are.
The good news is powerful communication is about the clarity of the vision; not the gender of the visionary.
It’s about the power of the message, not the sex of the messenger.
The truth is, women aren’t a special class of disabled communicators, nor are men who don’t feel masters of the skill, somehow ‘naturally’ lacking.
Presenting and public speaking are acquired skills and the real truth is anyone can improve. Anyone can learn to be a powerful and effective public communicator for their ideas. Anyone can learn to let others see them at their authentic best. So whether you get professional coaching (ahem), or opt for informal feedback on your own, resolve to get there. Commit to showing yourself at your absolute public best. It’s too important for your own career success to perform at anything less than at your most powerful!
Aileen Pincus is a communications consultant and President of the Pincus Group, Executive Communications Training. She can be reached at www.thepincusgroup.com