Watch Your Language!
Q: Dear AFETT, This may seem strange, but I’ve noticed that men sound different
in business. Sometimes I feel as if I made the exact same point as a male co-worker,
he would be the one that the boss pays attention to! Is there any way I can learn
to sound more authoritative? Michelle.
A: Dear Michelle, Men do sound different from women when they’re conducting business
and there’s a lesson there for us. Being more conscious about the language we use will serve us in good stead as we strive for greater reach in the business world.
Women are socialized differently than men. We’ve been taught to be polite and accommodating.
Hopefully, most of us have developed beyond the point where we’re averting our eyes
and offering a limp handshake when being introduced to someone new, but the seed
of that socialization is still rooted within. That’s not a bad thing, mind you –
from that seed springs our empathy, our intuition, our compassion, our desire to
be of service – all valuable assets that women bring to every aspect of their lives,
not just the business side. But let that socialization be the star of your communication
style and you will find yourself suddenly being treated like the subordinate, “girly-girl”
your language is telling everyone you really are.
Let me reiterate: I am not advocating that you morph into a man to get ahead in
business, just that you speak and act like the competent woman you are. The next time you want to make a point, couch it in the form of a statement rather than a
Many women tend to offer suggestions apologetically, punctuating their
opinions with deference, or asking for their boss’ validation. In so doing, they
relinquish their power to own the idea or make the decision.
Another mistake women make that men almost never succumb to is reacting emotionally
to a situation. This is because men have the innate ability to not take things personally.
They also understand the value of taking the time to evaluate a problem and find
a facts-based solution. Flying off the handle and coming across like you’re on an
emotional roller coaster does no one any good, least of all yourself.
The best rule is to keep it simple. Make your point in short, clear sentences and
don’t repeat ad nauseam, which is not only irritating, it’s a time waster. Be conscious
of how you describe things. I think every businesswoman has received an ill-timed
phone call and responded with, “I can’t speak with you right now. I’m in a little
meeting.” The word little minimizes what you’re doing and makes it seem insignificant.
When men field calls like that, you’d swear you interrupted them in the middle of
the G8 Summit. Women are also deathly afraid of compliments. It doesn’t matter whether
it’s about the dress they’re wearing (This old thing?) or their job performance
(I was just lucky). Take due pride in what you’ve accomplished and own your successes.
You will never find men apologizing for the mistakes of others. If a woman goes
into a presentation and at the end of it the client isn’t happy, the woman’s first
instinct may be to take the responsibility. A man would whip out the brief, show
it to the client and maintain that he did exactly what was asked for. This does
not mean passing blame. It means accepting responsibility only for what is your
Communication is also non-verbal, so be aware of your body language. Crossing your
arms when speaking with someone signals a lack of receptivity. Glancing around a
room or having separate conversations when someone else has the floor is disrespectful.
There are really no secrets to communicating effectively. Simply be conscious of
your language and how it shapes your experience and you will soon be sending the
Janine Mendes-Franco is Principal of The New Cheeze, a communications consultancy
firm that specializes in video/film productions, and a past President of the Association
of Female Executives of Trinidad and Tobago.