The Language of POWER – What You Need to Know
Women Must Learn the Language of POWER
Certain types of behavior have been expected of women since time began. For “little ladies,” arguing, cursing and displays of anger have been taboo. Most little girls were — and many still are — raised to be polite, cooperative and, by and large, docile. Historically, women were encouraged to speak softly, always say please and thank you, and smile a lot. It’s no wonder that as we grew up, learning to express ourselves forcefully became a real challenge.
This gender differentiation begins practically at birth. Social psychologist Jeffrey Rubin and his associates have found that first-time fathers use different adjectives to describe their newborns, depending on whether the infant is a boy or a girl. Day-old sons are “firm,” “strong” and “alert.” Daughters are “soft” and “delicate.”
When mothers were observed with their infants, they frequently gave sons a train to play with and handed their daughters a doll. And these were mothers who felt they were free of gender differentiation.
In the toddler stage, boys are encouraged to have rough-and-tumble interaction, while daughters’ parents place far more emphasis on talking. Gender-specific behavior is reinforced by grade-school textbooks, children’s cartoons and the mass media.
With this early social conditioning, it’s no wonder that boys and girls emerge with very different self-concepts. These differences surface not just in the way they play, but in the way they communicate, and, later in life, in the way they conduct professional interactions.
It’s no secret that boys grow up preferring to play outdoors in large groups that are structured hierarchically — think tag, baseball, football. Their groups usually have a leader and their games almost always have winners and losers. Boys are encouraged to boast about their skills and to argue about who’s best at what.
Compare this to the traditional behavior of girls, who are often found playing in small groups or pairs, where intimacy is key (playing house, jumping rope, hopscotch). Everyone gets a turn regardless of skill and there are no real winners or losers. Because girls are typically more concerned with being liked than being the winner, challenge and status are rare and boasting is discouraged.
So what do you think happens when these little boys and girls grow up and become members of the work force? Because men grew up in hierarchical structures, they are comfortable with organizational charts. Women, conversely, have traditionally been more comfortable cooperating with people rather than controlling them or — worse — being controlled by them.
Businessmen generally have few, if any, qualms about issuing orders or voicing complaints. Most women tend to be uncomfortable pulling rank; better to get one’s way by having everyone agree. Men rarely seem uncomfortable with disagreement, while women typically go out of their way to avoid confrontation.
Particularly crucial to our approach to careers is the fact that men seem to expect to be successful, and when they are, they take full credit. While women hope to be successful, and when they are, generally attribute it to teamwork or luck.
Traditionally, in the business world, the male model of authority was considered superior to the female model of collaboration. However, it’s becoming abundantly clear that effective communicators are fluent with both styles. The key to success lies not only in recognizing and understanding the difference between the two styles of communication, but focusing on and creating for one’s self a style that encompasses the best of both worlds.
Best-selling author Connie Glaser is one of the country’s leading experts on gender communication and women’s leadership issues. Her recently published book, GenderTalk Works, provides an upbeat guide to bridging the gender gap at work. A popular keynote speaker at corporate events, she can be reached at http://www.connieglaser.com