The material below highlights a few of the contents
of the full annotated bibliography, which may be purchased via the
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Do Men and Women Differ in Their
Before we look at the differences, we
should realize that:
There is enormous diversity in
communication style and practices within each gender group.
Most women and many men have at
their disposal a variety of conversational and speech skills, any
one of which they may draw upon, depending on the situation, their
purposes, the roles they are playing, and the context.
Who Talks the Most?
In mixed-gender groups, at public
gatherings, and in many informal conversations, men spend more time
talking than do women.
For example, in one experiment, the
men with expertise talked longer than the women with expertise.
Men initiate more interaction than
Men are more likely than women to
interrupt the speaking of other people.
A study of faculty meetings revealed
that women are more likely than men to be interrupted.
Some of the interruptions that women
experience come from other women. (Women, when they do interrupt,
are more likely to interrupt other women than they are to interrupt
men, according to two studies.)
Women are more likely than men to
allow an interruption of their talk to be successful (they do not
resist the interruption as much as men do).
What About Gender Patterns in
Formal Group Meetings?
In meetings, men gain the "floor"
more often, and keep the floor for longer periods of time,
regardless of their status in the organization.
In professional conferences, women
take a less active part in responding to papers.
When women do ask a question, they
take less time in asking it than do men. In addition, they employ
much less prequestion predication, they are less likely to ask
multiple questions, and they are more likely than men to phrase
their question in personal terms.
What are the Gender Patterns in
Informal Group Meetings?
When the floor is an informal,
collaborative venture, women display a fuller range of language
ability. Here, in the kind of conversation where women excel, people
jointly build an idea, operate on the same wavelengths, and have
deep conversational overlaps.
Is There a "Women's Language"
Connoting Uncertainty and Deference?
The use of tag questions ("It's
really cold in here, isn't it?"), disclaimers ("I may be wrong, but
. . ."), and question statements ("won't you close the door?") all
decrease the perceived assertiveness of speech. However, research
has not confirmed that women and men differ in the frequency of
their use of these forms.
Raters perceive those who use a
deferential language style (super polite language, hedges, and
hesitations) as having less power but more personal warmth.
Does it Matter?
Those who talk more are more likely
to be perceived as dominant and controlling of the conversation.
Those who talk the most in
decision-making groups also tend to become the leaders. Especially
important are "task leadership behaviors," such as asking questions,
helping to set up structures and procedures for the groups, giving
information and opinions, and identifying and solving problems.
Interrupters are perceived as more
successful and driving, but less socially acceptable, reliable, and
companionable than the interrupted speaker.
In a study of trial witnesses in a
superior court, undergraduate student observers saw both female and
male witnesses who use powerful language as being more competent,
intelligent, and trustworthy than those who use powerless language.
What are Some of the Ways Women
are Affecting by These Patterns?
When someone is interrupted often or
her comments are ignored, she may come to believe that what she has
to say must not be important.
Women are less likely than men to
have confidence in their ability to make persuasive arguments.
Many women feel inhibited in formal,
Some women participate in creating
their own passive participation -- by allowing interruptions, by not
taking advantage of natural pauses in the conversation, or by asking
questions without explaining the context out of which the question
Some women, when they do gain the
"floor," talk too fast as though they know they are about to be
Are Gender Differences in
Communication Patterns Related to Power?
When people are strangers, they
expect less competence from women than from men.
But if women are known to have prior
experience or expertise related to the task, or if women are
assigned leadership roles, then women show greatly increased verbal
behaviors in mixed-sex groups.
A study of witnesses in a superior
court found that educated professionals who have high social status
were less likely to use "powerless language," regardless of gender.
Thus, differences are linked to
power, and are context-specific. Differences are socially created
and therefore may be socially altered.
Other studies have found that
talking time is related both to gender (because men spend more time
talking than women) and to organizational power (because the more
powerful spend more time talking than the less powerful).
Is Assertiveness in Women Viewed
Negatively by Others?
In several carefully-controlled
studies using undergraduate students, assertive behavior exhibited
by females was evaluated as positively as the same behavior
exhibited by males (based on a study of employers who evaluated
audiotapes showing direct assertive, empathetic assertive, and
self-effacing assertive behaviors). The least-valued behavior is the
Subordinates prefer a supervisor to
balance a task-orientated style with a relationship-oriented style.
Research further has suggested that
the adoption of task behaviors (a focus on getting things done)
enhances a female's adaptability in the organization (but the
adoption of relationship behaviors -- focusing on the relationships
among people -- proves problematic for males). "The healthiest and
best-liked individuals, male or female, were assertive, decisive,
and intellectual, rather than nurturant, responsive and emotional"
(Fitzpatrick). Therefore, women may want to focus on task- and
impression-management goals in their interactions.
Some Strategies, Solutions and
There are three competing goals every time
A task goal -- get the job done.
A relational goal -- do not do
unnecessary damage to the relationships between you and others by
An identity management goal -- make
your communication project the image that you want.
Women should avoid using tag
questions (That's an interesting idea, isn't it?") or
disclaimers ("I could be mistaken, but . . ."; "This may sound
strange but . . .").
To gain the floor in discussion,
women can creatively use strategic questioning. The careful use
of questions in a conversation controls when a topic is changed
and when a topic is extended and discussed at greater length.
Women probably should not adopt
male behavior by greatly increasing their rate of interrupting
others. Once a woman has the floor, she should resist giving it
to another speaker until she has completed her points ("Just a
moment, I haven't finished").
Instead of asking open-ended
questions such as, "How is the project going?," ask closed
questions such as "when can we expect the report of the data
Women should not undercut what
they are saying with their nonverbal actions. They should adopt
a slightly more relaxed posture, do less frequent smiling (and
smile only when there is something to smile about), and less
frequent nodding, head tilting and dropping of eyes in response
to another's gaze. They should avoid using the intonation of a
question (raising the voice at the end of a sentence rather than
lowering it) when making a declarative statement.
The statements below are adapted from
The Androgynous Manager, by Alice G. Sargent, Amacom, 1981:
Learn to state exactly what you
want and face the risk of being cut down or wrong, especially at
meetings. This is not a "safe" position, but it is an honest
one. Be concerned more about stating your own position than
about how the other person is reacting to you.
State your own needs and do not
back down even if the immediate response is not acceptance.
Stop self-limiting behaviors,
such as allowing interruptions or laughing after making a
Practice taking risks and
Learn to focus on a task and
regard it as at least as important as the relationship among the
people doing the task.
Stop turning anger and blame
inward. Stop making negative statements about yourself. Make
Stop feeling comfortable with
being a victim and suffering.
Deal differently with women:
Develop an "old girl" network, working more closely with other
Build a sense of community among
women instead of saying "I did it, why can't she?"
Support other women to the same
degree or more than women support men.