Women are great communicators… aren’t we? Well, it depends on what you think the most successful aspect of communication really is. Mary hits it right on the nose. Good communicators, and powerful people, are excellent listeners. Effective communications skills start with listening. – InPower Editors
Sometimes, I like to think I’m a card carrying member of the Successful Communicator Club simply because I am a woman. As women, we can sometimes fall for the stereotype that we are members of the gender of superior communicators. Pop-psychology and pop-research can trick us into believing that we will always out-communicate a spouse, a boyfriend, a male boss. But if that were true, why are there so many articles giving us advice for how we could listen better to the men in our lives? (Here’s another perspective.)
Women have the same communication challenge as men – knowing how to listen effectively.
I can speak to this from experience. I work with a lot of women. And I hope not to offend them here, but yes – there’s a lot of talking, but there isn’t a lot of listening. I have to repeat myself often. Or other women talk over me. I often have to interrupt people to get a word in edgewise because everyone feels the need to talk – few take a break or a pause. My favorite—the team will discuss something on a call, all agree, review supporting documentation, and then a week later I remind everyone of our previous discussion and I have to start from the beginning because no one listened the first time around.
Those who listen have the power. – via @MFBrodie – Click To Tweet
Sure, some of this is due to working remotely – it is hard to focus and listen to others when you don’t see them in person and rely on the phone, virtual tools and IM as the only means of communication. But there are other reasons. Women tend to:
- believe that they are great multi-taskers and don’t focus on listening (they believe they can email and listen – which isn’t true);
- believe they are great communicators from media stereotyping;
- have the perception that whomever has the floor to talk has the power in a discussion; and
- perceive men has having more status/power when they have the floor.
(Bullets 3 and 4, from Myth #6 Language Prejudice, Do you Speak American? PBS)
The irony is that those who listen have the power.
My mom taught me that the person who speaks very little usually has more power because he uses his words wisely—so when he does speak, it will be about something important and worth listening to. What she didn’t teach me was that listening wasn’t about just hearing words – but observing gestures, facial expressions, and understanding the emotions of others in the room. Good listeners “people watch” body language, rather than thinking about their responses to what is being said. The person who talks gets floor time, but the person who listens understands what is going on – hearing what is and is NOT being said.
When we make our start in the world at school, the person in the power position is the teacher, speaking all day long. We learn indirectly that whomever speaks has the power; the listeners, conversely, have no power and are being “schooled.” This paradigm continues well into our professional lives, with men and women competing for floor time, believing this is how to achieve greater status.
However, the real power rests with those who listen to all perspectives and contribute to a final decision.
Salespeople are now focusing more on listening to the customer – learning what his challenges are and offering a solution rather than telling the customer what he needs to do and buy his product. Salespeople are now participants in their customers decisions, helping them make that final call. This makes listening more important than ever for everyone in this information age – and not just for women.
We women have some work to do if we want to validate the stereotype of us being the gender of more effective communicators. In the meantime, we should pause from talking, listen to understand and with a few lessons from the men, teach each other how to be members of the Successful Communicator Club.
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