We all know that there is a distinct difference between the way men and women communicate in business. But what about woman to woman communication? Who talks about the way women deal with each other in their communications? It’s not all that pretty and proper like some would have you believe.
I’m always astounded when I read a feel good article that talks about women dealing with other women. You know all about the mysterious women who have never had a problem, exchanged a cross word or damaged a relationship. Where do these women live? In La La Land.
I have worked almost exclusively with women for 10 years and have encountered almost every conceivable behavior both good and bad. I am bombarded with calls and emails every day that run the gamut. The repeating links that stand out are the lack of professionalism, support and empathy that is evoked from women.
The simple truth is that women’s dealing with other women is a very complex connection. Many factors influence our communication style some of which have been inbred from when we were small children. We can’t change those influences now but we can pattern ourselves to think before we speak and work within the boundaries of shared experiences.
Think of your communication in terms of the roles you play in your relationships: businesswoman, confidant, wife, mother, friend, sister, boss, associate, colleague and so on. Each character requires a different persona and different style of communication. Be prepared to support that part in your communication style. Speaking gives you more ways to legitimize your communication context. If you are verbally communicating face to face, body language, inflection, eye contact and (most important) overall appearance can sway the recipient before you even open your mouth.
Let’s start by talking about how women communicate. In our time crunched, stressed-out over-committed lives we rarely communicate in a proactive way. When we reach out to other women, it’s usually because we need something (not because we are staying in touch). Establishing a bond before you actually need something will greatly increase your chance of positive communication. One method I find highly successful is staying in touch through a weekly ezine that I write and distribute. The ezine includes helpful tips and information. When I send it, I’m not asking for anything. I’m working toward building a rapport and establishing a familiarity. The truth is that this will be to my benefit at the time when I might need assistance. Whether the recipient reads my column or not, they get a weekly communiqué that builds brand awareness of who I am and what I stand for. One sure way to build an affiliation that is not based on need is to send a person a note commenting on a job well done, an award, a promotion or other newsworthy event in their life. People love to be flattered and even the most hardened profession likes to be told she is making a difference.
Along the same lines of selfish communication comes from women who want to do business with you. In my case, it’s women who want to do business with me expect me to do all the work. They go to my website and find out all about me and become a star catcher. Well, this is annoying to me. The fact is that when doing business you have to be prepared to hold up your end. Get to the point immediately. Tell the receiver who you are and what you can do for them – not what you expect them to do for you. Keep your communication benefits driven. Don’t go in blind. The entire time you are communicating with someone in business, they are thinking WIIFM (what’s in it for me).
On this front, a reactive common communication issue is our response when we hear from someone out of the blue who wants a favor. We know that they came out of no where and want something, but will never return the favor. Forget all that hocus pocus about good deeds being returned. The plain and simple truth is that it doesn’t work and that serves to build hidden resentment. If someone asks a favor and you expect it to be returned, then communicate the trade up front. Call it reciprocity or whatever you like. Just make sure the person understands the handshaking going into the bargain.
Email communication is doubly hard because we all carry the baggage of preconceived notions about a person’s message. This is the case even when we have never met them! We are judged by the written language used to communicate. Spend time carefully crafting your written communications. Would you be offended if some one wrote the same thing to you? Is there something you would read into the message? We have become notoriously lax in business etiquette in our email correspondence because it’s so easy to use. Before you hit that send button, think about what you are writing and how you are communicating it.
One of the most common written communication errors is to either misspell or get someone’s name wrong. For example, we may use Katherine instead of Catherine or Kathleen instead of Caitlyn. For some unknown reason women freak out over this misstep. Some of the nastiest messages I ever received resulted from making this type of simple error. If this happens to you, apologize and move on. If this mistake has soured the relationship, accept that nothing will salvage it.
What about our covert communication techniques? During my sales days in calling on women in a decision making role, I constantly ran into a brick wall with the gate keeper. Have you encountered this gate keeper? It is like Cerberus guarding the inner sanctum. How frustrating is that when you know you have something of value to offer? Seriously, we have all had the experience of trying to soothe or nurture that bull dog guarding their master. And worst of all is the abrupt, abrasive, antagonistic women that let’s our male counterpart waltz though the door.
How do you overcome the sentinel posted between you and your mark? Simply put, you have to cultivate the gatekeeper before you can engage in any meaningful dialogue. Why is this person so suspicious and wary of your intentions anyway? It is important to remember she is protecting her turf. Her role is to keep out unwanted persons from making it to the next level. Why does she consider you unworthy? She considers you insignificant; after all you are just another woman. How could you possible be anyone of import?
Let’s explore this mindset. Have you ever found yourself in a predominately male crowd with a few women sprinkled throughout? Did you find yourself gravitating toward the men and ignoring the women? I have done that. Why with my vast experience am I engaging in this behavior? I’ve been conditioned. We all have! With so few business women in the male dominated business environment, I am forced to make snap decisions about the women in the room. Why are they there? Are they any help? What is their purpose? Given that they are a woman too; can they be of any significance? Did I scrutinize their appearance? You bet. I checked her out down to the last detail. Interesting analysis, huh? That’s what the gate keeper is thinking about you!
One unfortunate communication characteristic most of us have encountered from another woman is the one who delivers as the ugly green-eyed monster: jealously. Consciously or unconsciously we evaluate and compare our successes or failures with others in our circle of acquaintances or even high profile women whole accomplishments we can never hope to replicate. Making these assessments puts a slant on our communication style. If someone is more successful r has a higher profile, we automatically assume the worst. Our suspicious minds want to know how she got there. We think she must be sleeping with the boss, have the goods on someone in the company or is the “token” women (not to worry you are not alone men have these same thoughts too). Get over yourself! She won!! Maybe you can’t control the emotion but you can keep from interjecting the thoughts into the tenor of your conversation. Think before you speak. Dispel any preconceived notions about the person you are speaking to which might distort the message you are conveying. Engage some benign small talk while you marshal your thoughts. Put yourselves on equal footing. It’s an old saying, but it resounds with truth: She puts her pants on one leg at a time just like you do.
Moving on, what about the convenient non-communicator? Have you ever had an associate who worked her way to the top of the company only to disassociate herself with those at a lower level? I know such a person. She went so far as to say to me, “I don’t have time to associate with any one not at my level on the food chain.” I’ve known this person a long time and until this she was just a regular “gal.” This phenomenon is much more prevalent than you think. Psychologists named it “drawbridge syndrome.” You bring up the bridge behind you as you cross it and advance up the corporate ladder. Don’t let this happen to you. Remember where you came from. Be true to yourself and those who support you. Treat all women with equal respect no matter how high you climb on the ladder to success.
A glaring problem with women’s communication is that on the receiving end, we take everything personally. Whether it’s an unfavorable reply, a statement about a situation, or an issue to be resolved many women take it as a personal affront. Wrong! What is happening is business. It may be good business practice and has nothing to do with you personally.
Here are some successful methods to open a door for a long-lived relationship.
o Get a referral from someone who already knows you or is working with the person you are trying to foster. Communication by word of mouth is a strong influencing factor among women. A referral gives you instant credibility.
o Ask for assistance or help with a project. Depending upon the type of appeal you make will influence your success rate. Make your request short and sweet with clear cut benefits to them with solid results. “You will get X for your help.”
o Use humor. It lightens the moment and softens the situation. This works well when you have committed a faux pas.
o Make a clever, interesting, or powerful statement. Remember women are busy and multitasking. Capture their attention with an important message.
o When you receive or experience an unsavory communiqué, let it rest before you respond. Women are notorious to come back with clever repartee.
On occasion, even the great communicator still won’t get it with another woman. I recently sent a message to my readers that was quite funny. 95% of the people thought it so and replied with that thought in mind. The other 5% let me know that they thought the message abrasive, arrogant and condescending. The fact is that you are never going to please ever woman you interact with. There are some women you will never “connect with” despite your best effort. My advice? Move on to the next relationship and put the unsuccessful one on the back burner. Don’t destroy it with a nasty, condescending (responsive) rebuttal.
Above all think before you communicate with another woman. Run the sound byte through your head before you open your mouth. How does it sound to you? Would you be offended or antagonized if someone said the same to you? Is your connection on a deeper level? Do you clearly state a benefit? Remember it’s not always what you communicate, but the method and manner in which you communicate it.