Women are the great communicators, right? We certainly are more likely than our male counterparts to insist that problems be talked through, that feelings be expressed, that we be truly heard and understood. However, while women may be skilled at communicating intimately with those we love, some of our communication styles are not conducive to achieving success in the business world. In order to succeed in business or successfully climb the corporate ladder, women need to use communication tools that effectively express their confidence, intelligence, strength, and ability – women must learn to communicate fearlessly!
Here are eight tips for fearless communication:
1. Don’t bury the punch line.
Have you ever noticed that, when faced with something difficult to express, whether it be admitting a mistake to a client or reprimanding an employee for poor performance, you talk about everything BUT the problem at hand? You might eventually get around to describing the real issue, but only after much discussion about other, less relevant, topics. Women have a tendency to bury difficult “punch lines” in an attempt to avoid an angry confrontation, criticism, or hurting someone’s feelings. The reality is that talking around the issue, or trying to hide or soften it amidst other information, doesn’t help you avoid the discomfort. Instead it prolongs the problem, delays resolution, and leads to confusion.
2. Avoid the “I want them to like me” trap.
In general, women are far more concerned about how others perceive them than are men. If you notice that a desire for approval is motivating how and what you communicate to others at work, it is time to remind yourself of the goal of communication. The goal of communication is to clearly and fearlessly express your thoughts, feelings, and ideas – not to win others’ approval. Our goal for clients – and for anyone reading this – is to focus less on who does (or doesn’t) like you and more on being and expressing your authentic self. Ultimately, being true to yourself without being overly concerned about who will (or will not) like you, will earn you great respect and success in business.
3. Watch your head.
Women have a tendency to nod their head to indicate that they hear and understand what is being said to them. However, men typically interpret and use head-nodding to mean agreement with what is being said. Therefore, you may be inadvertently miscommunicating your position. Head-nodding can also be perceived by men as a sign of weakness, or submissiveness, which is the last message you want to send as a woman in the business world.
4. Make eye contact.
Yes, we’ve all heard this one before. But it’s easier said than done – especially during stressful or uncomfortable confrontations. We challenge each and every one of you to make eye contact when you most want to avoid it. This means when you are saying something difficult to say, or listening to something difficult to hear. Making eye contact – no matter what the circumstances – communicates that you are confident, taking responsibility for what you are saying and hearing, and that you are strong enough to confront the issue. It is particularly important for women to be able to communicate – verbally and nonverbally – their strength and confidence in the business world.
5. Don’t water down your message.
Women have a tendency to use ‘weak’ language that serves to water down their message. One example of weak language is using tag lines at the end of sentences. Examples of these are: “This is a great angle, don’t you think?” and “Our department is doing well, isn’t it?” A tag line at the end of a sentence weakens the statement being made as well as the authority of the speaker. It communicates that the speaker is not completely confident so must ask for reassurance.
Another example of weak language is using qualifiers such as ‘some,’ ‘sort of,’ ‘just,’ ‘only,' and ‘kind of.’ For example: “This is kind of exciting,” “This is just a suggestion,” and “I only meant to clarify that,” are all weak statements. Again, not only is the message weakened, but so is the strength of the speaker.
6. Don't fear respectful confrontations.
Many people, and women in particular, are eager for peace and comfort both at home and at work. Even the idea of conflict and confrontation makes them uncomfortable. However, it is often through confrontation that solutions are found. At Talk Works, we say that burnout doesn’t come from workplace problems – it comes from having the same problems over and over with no solutions. It may help to ask yourself what’s worse: feeling angry, resentful or frustrated with a situation every day you come into work, or finding the courage to have a conversation that, while uncomfortable, will likely resolve the issue and the negative feelings. Have this kind of conversation when you are not overly emotional (in other words, never begin a difficult discussion “in the moment” when your feelings have more control than your intellect) and avoid pointing the finger or placing blame (even if you feel it would be appropriate to do so). Talk only about yourself and remain focused on the solution you’re working toward.
7. Eliminate the 'Yes, but' syndrome.
Chellie Campbell of Los Angeles teaches a phenomenal course called Financial Stress Reduction. In the first class, she has each student state his or her goals for the course. She then talks to each individual about suggestions for how to reach those goals. Every time she makes a suggestion and is greeted with a “Yes, but” response (e.g.,“Yes, but I’ve already tried that,” or “Yes, but people in my industry just don’t do that.”), she tosses over a pin with “Yes, but” printed in large, red letters. By the end of the first class many people are covered in these pins. Women seem to be especially vulnerable to the “Yes, but” syndrome and it is entirely counterproductive, particularly in a work setting. Decide that you will refuse to focus on why something can’t or won’t work. Instead decide that all ideas are productive and that moving toward successful solutions involves a constant flow of ideas – most of which have potential and deserve thoughtful consideration before they’re “Yes, butted” off the table. You will become an integral part of any team if you are willing to build ideas rather than discard them.
8. Speak up.
Women in the workplace fail to speak up in two important ways. First, women tend to allow men to interrupt them. Men, in general, jump in with their ideas, assert what they think and therefore interrupt more than women. In response to this male communication pattern, women frequently allow themselves to be cut off and their ideas to be silenced or even usurped by their male counterparts. We suggest that women calmly hold their ground when they are interrupted by saying something like, “To continue my point…” or “Just a minute, I’d like to finish my point.”
Second, women remain silent during meetings. Women frequently wait to be called on or have difficulty taking the floor. It is crucial to speak up at least once during every business meeting, even if you are simply agreeing with a point being made, or summarizing what has been said. Not saying anything can be interpreted as a lack of knowledge or ability. Speak up to ensure that your strengths and knowledge are accurately perceived.
Courage is the foundation of successful communication – and successful communication is the foundation of great achievement. Is it difficult to strive for respect above being liked, or to avoid weak language so that people hear your message more clearly? Yes. Does fearless communication mean that you have to be aggressive, even masculine, at work? Absolutely not! Ideally, the kind of strength you will develop in your communication will allow you to be direct and assertive and will create an environment for others to feel this freedom as well. Be yourself, be authentic and communicate fearlessly.
About the Authors
Victoria Simon, Ph.D., and Holly Pedersen, Ph.D., are the founders of Talk Works, a communication and conflict-resolution training company located at 468 N. Camden Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90201. For more information call: 310.860.5191, or visit www.OurTalkWorks.com.