Someone recently told me a statistic: on average, women use eight times as many words a day as men do. Thinking about my own life with a husband of 30 years and my two grown sons, that makes perfect sense. In fact, their core vocabulary consists of “Yes,” “No,” “Sure,” “Fine,” and “Great.” When I really want to chat it’s like pulling teeth!
This is not simply something unique to the home. In the workplace, I have seen this vast contrast in communication from both sides. When I worked in general management jobs with mostly male peers, I found myself using lengthy and descriptive language during meetings, while the men would speak in bullet points. In my experience heading marketing teams, often with the majority being women, the conversations flow and there is a lot of personal sharing. Both styles have benefits, but for women who want to advance in their careers, it is important to learn how to make their communication style an asset, not a liability–especially in a male-dominated field.
I have been lucky to have great mentors who gave me feedback on communicating in the workplace, and I’ve worked hard to develop a communication style that remains feminine, authentic and yet persuasive.
Here are some tips to help you develop your own communication skills for business meetings:
1. Pick the right environment: My ability to open up and connect with people while brainstorming ideas works really well in one-on-one meetings. I try to make sure that I have time for relationship building–it’s important to me. I have found that men will be much more candid in smaller groups and I learn a lot while also forging good partnerships.
2. Follow the unwritten rules: Generally, group meetings with men open up with a few pleasant exchanges as an ice breaker. Don’t sit back organizing your notes–join in. And yes, it helps to show you can take an interest in the topics they will likely remark on before meetings, whether it be the recent scores for local sports or the latest tech gadget that is being released. I resisted this for years until I learned that it was easy to say, “Great game.” Once the bonding is over, get back to business.
3. Resist the urge to think out loud: Even in the days of iPads, I continue to scribble on a note pad during meeting to ensure that I think before I speak if I want to be impactful. It lets you trim down ideas and words before expressing them, allowing you to really “own” your idea by stating it clearly and deliberately. It also makes it less likely that a comment you make that isn’t fully formed gets reshaped and restated by someone else, while you are thinking, “That was my idea!”
4. Have a few good lines to shape your personal brand: When I first started out, I was told that I seemed too “soft” when I spoke. Over the years I developed a reputation as a straight-shooter by adopting my signature comments, “The bottom line is….” and “Here’s the deal.” In contrast, a female friend of mine who is considered to be very numbers-driven often uses the line, “Let’s look at the big picture.” What you say shapes how you are perceived, and perception matters.
5. Be a conductor: There is huge power in listening and being the facilitator of the group, especially when men are talking over each other with conflicting or competing views. Interject by saying, “Here’s what I am hearing you say,” or “It seems we have two important differences of opinion.” It not only makes you a player, it’s constructive and moves the meeting forward.
These five tips have helped me many times in my business dealings, and I go back to them from time to time as a reminder or when I feel I need a “tune up” with my business communication. Choosing your words carefully and knowing how to create the positive impact you want in business meetings will pay off exponentially in your career.
Gail Graham is senior vice president of strategy and execution at United Capital, a national partnership of private wealth counseling offices. She is responsible for all aspects of branding, marketing and lead generation as well as strategy and business planning.
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