I was sitting next to my classmate, Chris, on Saturday morning. It was the last day of our fabulous 8-week FastTrac* Growth Venture course that is sponsored by a local non-profit, the Women’s Business Development Center. Just to be clear, Chris is a guy.
One of our state senators was there to deliver certificates of completion to each one of us, so we all had to stand up and do our elevator pitch. One woman mentioned that she was "in transition." Chris got a funny look on his face. He turned to me and said, "In transition? What does that mean?"
I realized at that moment that we were experiencing a classic gender difference in communication; in fact, I had never heard a man say such a thing. Smiling, I said to Chris he didn’t know what it meant because he doesn’t attend any women’s networking groups (naturally). Then I defined it for him and asked him what men say. "I’m looking for a job or I need a job or I’m out of work," was his response. How direct, I thought, no pussyfooting or beating around the bush. Of course, I also thought, what’s up with us women when it comes to speaking directly?
Women tend to be indirect in their speech and this can, at times, significantly weaken their efforts at communication. One habit is called hedging. Two examples of hedging are:
"I know you may not like this idea, but I would like to recommend_________."
"This may sound stupid, but I think we should try_________"
Well, that certainly sounds authoritative! The hedges are at the beginning of the statements. They immediately weaken what is being said. Translation: "I'm totally insecure and don't know what I'm doing." No matter how you're feeling, leave the hedge out. Start with the word, "I" after the comma.
Then we have qualifiers:
"I would kind of like to lead this effort."
"It’s sort of an ok idea."
What the heck is she talking about? In the first statement, "kind of "qualifies the statement and not for the better. Leave it out and see what happens. Go ahead, say it out loud. Ahhh, that sounds much stronger. In the second example there are two problems, "sort of" and "ok." Women must be able to express a negative view if that is what an idea deserves. Anything else guarantees confusion and worse: the work won’t get done.
And if a woman doesn’t learn to directly ask for a job, she might not get one.
Ruth Sherman Associates LLC / High Stakes Communication / www.ruthsherman.com
*FastTrac is a wonderful series of programs that are offered all over the country. If you are looking to start or grow a business, find a place to take this course. There is also a FastTrac program for technology ventures.