How do men and women’s communication styles vary? Explore the stereotypes of how men and women communicate, with research as a guide. Consider how much we talk, communication mindsets, our choice of words, vocal patterns, listening skills, non-verbal cues, and confidence. Andrea navigates the nuances, dismantles stereotypes, offers insights into the roots of imposter syndrome, and reveals how embracing these differences can foster more effective and diverse communication in various contexts.
Books and Articles
- Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, John Gray, PhD
- You just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation,” Deborah Tannen
- Tokyo Olympics chief says women talk too much at meetings, calls it ‘annoying’, Matt Bonesteel, Washington Post
- Why Do Men Have Deeper Voices than Women?, Erika Engelhaupt, NPR
- Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders?, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, Harvard Business Review
- Stop Telling Women They Have Imposter Syndrome, Ruchika Tulshyan and Jodi-Ann Burey, Harvard Business Review
- Everyone Suffers From Impost0r Syndrome – Here’s How to Handle It, Andy Molinksy, Harvard Business Review
- Is Your Communication Style Dictated By Your Gender?, Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D., Forbes
- “Physician gender effects in medical communication: a meta-analytic review,” Debra L. Roter, Judith A. Hall, Yutaka Aoki (2002)
- “Sex differences in eavesdropping on nonverbal cues,” Rosenthal, R., & DePaulo, B. M. (1979)
- “The Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention,” Pauline Rose Clance, Suzanne Imes (1978)
- “Perceiving Sex Directly and Indirectly: Meaning in Motion and Morphology,” Kerri L. Johnson, Louis G. Tassinary (2005)
- “Candidate Voice Pitch Influences Election Outcomes,” Casey A. Klofstad (2015)
- “Strangers meet: Laughter and nonverbal signs of interest in opposite-sex encounters,” Karl Grammer (1990)
- “The Influence of Facial Emotion Displays, Gender, and Ethnicity on Judgments of Dominance and Affiliation,” Ursula Hess, Sylvie Blairy, Robert E. Kleck (2000)
- “Gender and Job Status as Contextual Cues for the Interpretation of Facial Expression of Emotion,” Sara B. Algoe, Brenda N. Buswell, John D. DeLamater (2000)
- “‘Troubles Talk’: Effects of Gender and Gender-Typing,” Susan A. Basow, Kimberly Rubenfeld (2003)
- “Voice pitch and the labor market success of male chief executive officers,” William J. Mayew, Christopher A. Parsons, Mohan Venkatachalam (2013)
- “Gender and Power in the Workplace: Analysis of Communication Patterns,” Joann Keyton (2005)
- “Gender Differences in Communication Styles: The Impact on Gender Equality in the Workplace,” Judith Baxter (2003)
- “Gender Differences in Language Use: An Analysis of 14,000 Text Samples,” James W. Pennebaker and Deborah J. Stewart (1999)
- “Gender and Power in the Workplace: Analysis of Communication Patterns,” Joann Keyton (2005)
- “You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation” Deborah Tannen (1990)
- “Sex Differences in Language Use: An Analysis of 14,000 Text Samples,” James W. Pennebaker and Deborah J. Stewart (1999)
- “Gender and Communication: A Content Analysis of Children’s Animation Programs,” Jodie M. Plumert and Karen Z. Naufel (1997)
Talk About Talk Podcast Episodes
- Interruptions (Ep.128)
- Taking the Stage, Part 1 (Ep.94)
- Taking the Stage, Part 2 (Ep.95)
- Let’s Talk Imposter Syndrome (Ep.83)
Connect with Andrea & Talk About Talk:
- Website: TalkAboutTalk.com
- Communication Coaching Newsletter: https://talkabouttalk.com/blog/#newsletter-signup
- LinkedIn: Andrea and TalkAboutTalk
- Youtube Channel: @talkabouttalkyoutube
- Talk About Talk Podcast Archive
In early 2021, Yoshiro Mori, president of the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee was asked about why there were so few women on the committee. His response – his formal, on-the-record response to committee members and reporters –was, quote:
“Board of director’s meetings with many women take a lot of time. When you increase the number of female executive members, if their speaking time isn’t restricted to a certain extent, they have difficulty finishing, which is annoying,”
Mori used 38 words.
My response to Mori is just 3 words:
DO. THE. RESEARCH.
And THAT is exactly what we’re gonna do here!
Greetings and welcome to talk about TALK episode #141 Gender Differences in Communication. In this episode, you’re going to learn about the stereotypes we have about how men communicate and how women communicate. And of course, I’m going to take you through what the research says. Was Yoshiro Mori right? DO women talk too much? Well, let’s just say he ended up apologizing a few times and them he finally resigned.
First though, let me introduce myself. In case we haven’t met, my name is Dr. Andrea Wojnicki and I’m YOUR executive communication coach. Please call me Andrea! I’m the founder of Talk About Talk, where I coach communication skills to ambitious executives through 1:1 coaching, bootcamps, workshops and keynotes. My objective is to help you improve your communication, your confidence and your clarity, so you’ll get noticed for the right reasons and ultimately get promoted! That’s my goal here. I want to help you accelerate your career trajectory.
If you go to the Talk About Talk.com website, you’ll find many resources to help you out. There’s information there about one-on-one and group coaching, online courses, corporate workshops, the archive of this bi-weekly podcast, AND, I really hope you’ll sign up for the Talk About Talk newsletter. That newsletter is your chance to get communication coaching from me every week. I choose a communication topic and coach you on 3 things related to that topic.
OK, on to our topic at hand. Gender differences in communication. This is gonna be fun and I promise there’s lots to learn. But you don’t need to take notes, because I do that for you. I will summarize the important takeaways for you at the end of the episode and you can always rad the transcript on the TAT.com website. SO just keep doing whatever you’re doing – walking or driving or just sitting on the couch. I got you covered!
So – I have to say that
People ask me about this topic ALL THE TIME.
And it’s a popular search on the TAT website.
People literally search: “What are gender differences in communication?”
I should start by reminding you, as you’re listening this, keep in mind that sex is biological, and gender is learned. In other words, while there are innate, physiological differences that may explain some differences between the sexes, we should also keep in mind that socialization, culture and learned behaviors also account for significant differences. And of course the differences identified in these research studies are averages for a group and do not apply to every individual – OF COURSE!
It’s essential to remind ourselves to treat each person as an individual rather than making assumptions solely based on gender.
That all said, gender differences certainly exist: You probably hear things like “Men are direct. Women are emotional….”
Just yesterday I had this conversation with my hairdresser. We were talking about this podcast, and I was telling him that I was about to record an episode on gender differences in communication. And I asked him what his observations were in terms of how men talk versus how women talk. You know what he said? He said, “Men are generally more direct. But Andrea, YOU are very direct! “ (SMILE)
I had to laugh about that. I told him that I agree. Generally, men tend to be more direct than women, and also, I agree that I am probably more direct in the average woman. There’s no passive aggressive here! I say it like it is.
Anyway, so you may have heard the stereotype that men are direct, and women are emotional.
You may have also heard that men are from Mars and women are from Venus.
Are men and women really from different planets? No, of course not! However, men and women often DO have different communication styles.
So, I scoured the academic research and came up with seven meaningful ways that men and women’s communication styles may differ. Seven is a lot. I agree. If you’ve been listening to the Talk About Talk podcast, you probably know that I’m a big fan of the Power of Three. But when I combed through the research, the insights were more easily categorized in terms of these seven things. Lucky number 7, I guess.
Let me tell you what they are right now, and then I’m going to get into detail and tell you what the research says about each of these seven elements of communication. OK, first:
- How much we talk
- Our communication mindsets
- Our words (or vocabulary)
- Our voices
- Our listening skills
- Our non-verbal communication
- Our confidence (and imposter syndrome)
Alright – let’s see what the research says!
1. HOW MUCH WE TALK
Yes, out of the gates, let’s see if that notorious Japanese Olympic Official was on to something.
Remember he said: that if women’s, “speaking time isn’t restricted to a certain extent, they have difficulty finishing, which is annoying.”
You can imagine how this research was done, right? They could count words or they could measure time when women talk versus when men talk in various contexts. It’s pretty simple research to conduct, actually. But important research, so we can dispel the incorrect messages like what Mr. Mori is pontificating.
By the way, all of the research papers that I referenced for this episode are included in the show notes. You can find the show notes in your podcast app or on the Talk About Talk website.
Before we move on, one more point I wanted to share from the research on how much we talk. I found a paper called “Physician gender effects in medical communication: a meta-analytic review” This paper concludes that female doctors spend an average of 2 minutes longer talking to their patients. In other words, your female physician may talk more, bu only because they spend more time with you than a male physician. Hmm.
OK, let’s move on to
2. COMMUNICATION MINDSETS
The research on this on is quite definitive. Women are more focused on relationships and emotions, while men are more direct and focused on information sharing.
Even starting at a young age, multiple sources demonstrate that women use communication as a tool to enhance social connections and create relationships,
While men use language to command dominance, power, and to achieve tangible outcomes.
In a 2009 study of over 400 participants, researchers concluded significant differences in how men and women perceive the benefit of work relationships. Men focus on relationships at work as a means to get the job done. Women value relationships at work in terms of social and emotional support. For women, work friendships are a key driver of job satisfaction.
In other words:
- men tend to be task-oriented while women are relationship-oriented.
- men may engage in “report talk” while women gravitate to “rapport talk”
- A helpful way to think about this is that men tend to be “friendly” while women are “friends.” (Thanks to my friend Mary for this one!) Let me say that again: “Men are friendly, women are friends.”
This plays out differently, depending on the communication context. One research paper I read, concluded that in conflict situations, women may approach resolution by seeking compromise and emphasizing collaboration. They often prioritize maintaining relationships and may use indirect language to express disagreement. Men may be more direct in addressing conflicts and may focus on finding solutions quickly, sometimes at the expense of discussing emotional aspects.
Another paper focused on topics of Conversation: Research suggests that women tend to engage in conversations that revolve around relationships, emotions, and personal experiences. Men may gravitate towards discussions related to factual information, activities, and external events.
Speaking pf topics of conversation, Let’s move on to the 3rd element of communication. So far, we’ve covered
1.How much we talk and 2.mindsets. #3 is our words
3. OUR WORDS
There are a few things here.
Research suggests that women tend to use more expressive and elaborate verbal communication. Men, on the other hand, may prioritize content and use more direct, concise language. You could say that women’s words can be more flowery while men’s is more black and white.
Linguistic research has found that women may use more qualifiers and hedges (words like “maybe,” “I think,” “sort of”) that soften their statements and make them more polite.
I’ve read a lot of papers about this, and you may have come across this yourself. Ladies, we need to stop with these qualifiers. No more “maybe,” “I think,” “sort of”and certainly, no more seeking permission to speak. “DO you mind if I interject here’ or apologies: “I’m sorry – I have one suggestion to add.”
WHY are we apologizing?
Then there’s the way some women may employ more tag questions or phrases that turn a statement into a question, like “It’s a nice day, isn’t it?”
This is seeking validation or agreement. Men, on the other hand, tend to use more assertive and direct language.
One other point here in terms of our words and women seeking validation. I learned this one from Judith Humphrey, a communication coach and author. She highlights how women tend to talk more about their hard work, while men lead and delegate. It’s like women need to describe their work, again, seeking validation. Of course, there are many reasons for this in terms of culture and social norms and yes, sexism. But it’s interesting, once you’ve read some of this research and you learn what the tendencies are, you start to see them everywhere.
Let’s move on to #4 – our voices.
4. OUR VOICES
Our voices vary across several vocal elements including rate, volume, articulation, pronunciation, fluency, and pitch. Understanding and incorporating variety in (most of) these elements creates a more engaging voice. In other words, if we speak fast and slow, with a high and low pitch, loudly and softly, our communication tends to be more engaging.
This goes for both men and women.
The pitch of men’s voices is typically almost one octave deeper than women’s due to their relative testosterone level, the hormone that elongates the vocal cords during puberty.
But we all knew this.
Women are also more likely to use upspeak.
This is when you make a statement but with an inflection at the end, so it comes across as a question. I’ve noticed upspeak with plenty of women I’ve coached over the years. Once they learn about upspeak and hear themselves, it’s relatively easy to fix. They don’t want to appear as if they’re implicitly seeking validation.
Back to the pitch of our voices though.
Plenty of research highlights the benefits of men’s deep voices. Not surprisingly, women find men with deeper voices more attractive than those with higher-pitched voices
According to one academic study, male CEOs with deeper voices are more successful than their higher-pitched peers across several measures: they tend to manage larger companies, make $187,000 a year more, and last in their jobs an average five months longer.
A 2015 study concluded that the U.S. Presidential candidate with the deeper voice won in every election since Calvin Coolidge.
And you may have heard that Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher took voice lessons
to deepen her voice prior to an election – which she then won.
Alright, we’re rounding the corner here. We’ve covered how much we talk. We’ve covered communication mindsets. We’ve covered our words. We’ve covered our voices. Now, it’s listening.
Here’s the thing. The anatomy of our ears is identical. Yet somehow, our listening is not.
In other words, it’s not our HEARING that’s different. But rather it’s how we listen. What engages us. The signals that men focus on might be different from the signals that women focus on.
Research reveals that women may tend to use more nonverbal cues like facial expressions, gestures, and body language to convey meaning, while men may rely more on verbal cues.
This sounds similar to what I was just saying, in terms of mindsets. Men are more direct. Women might consider nuance.
There’s another point here related to listening that I want to share. It’s from my interview with Judith Humphrey. She notes that women typically don’t assume people will listen. Said another way, women assume people aren’t listening to them. This might also explain why many women use qualifiers to get a word in. But I wonder if we shift to assuming people are listening, then they will. If you think this might apply to you, I challenge you to try to shift your mindset.
People. Are. Listening.
And yes, I have a big smile on my face as I’m saying this into the microphone – I hope you’re still listening.
On more thing related to listening. It’s about interrupting. I did a whole episode on interrupting recently. It’s episode 128. I share lots of research in that episode, much of which was conducted by Professor Sally Farley at the university of Baltimore. So, if you’re curious I encourage you to check out that episode. Three of the most relevant and impt things I want to share with you from that episode:
#1: Men interrupt more than women. Hmm.
#2: Who’s “allowed” to interrupt and who is not, has a lot to do with relative STATUS
#3: (This is where it gets good) If someone of higher status interrupts you, let it go. Everyone expects it and no one thinks less of you for letting it go. But if a more junior person or perhaps your competitive peer interrupts you, that’s when you need to stand your ground.
Does that make sense?
This all reminds me of the verbal sparring, focused on interrupting, that we witnessed in the 2020 vice presidential debate between Kamala Harris and Mike Pence.
Do you remember that?
Well, that leads me to turn-taking and tracking the ratio. If you’ve been listening to this Talk About Talk podcast for a while, You’ve likely heard me encouraging you to track the ratio. As in track the proportion of the conversation when you’re talking versus others. And if you’re a leader, making space for everyone in the room to speck up. It’s about tracking the ratio of airtime, and TURN TAKING.
When I was doing the research for this episode on gender differences in communication, this term TURN TAKING came up in several papers. Generally speaking, the research shows that men tend to interrupt more frequently in conversations, often to assert dominance or take control of the discussion. Women, on the other hand, may prioritize turn-taking and show more awareness of each other’s speaking time, contributing to a more cooperative conversational dynamic. In other words, women may be more likely to track the ratio.
Interesting, right? But I have to say, in my experience, I have not noticed this. The senior executives that I coach, men and women, are all focused on tracking the ratio. But I also know there’s a self-selection bias here. I’m coaching folks who are literally investing in their communication skills.
So, there’s a lot going on here in terms of gender differences with listening in particular. I started here by mentioning the research that concluded that when men listen, they rely more on direct, verbal cues, while women may tend to rely more nonverbal cues like facial expressions, gestures, and body language.
The 6th of our 7 communication elements that we’re focusing on here includes these non-verbal cues, including facial expressions, gesture and body language.
6. NON-VERBAL COMMUNICATION AND BODY LANGUAGE
The upshot here is this: Men and women ACT differently!
Research shows significant differences between men’s and women’s non-verbal communication. Generally, men display more power and status-oriented body language, while women display more “warm” body language. Various research studies show that MEN’s non-verbal communication:
- is more assertive and power-hungry
- shows more dominant behaviors such as side-to-side head shaking, expressions of anger and disgust,
- and it may be more expansive (as in… man-spreading) You know, that guy who sits with his pegs spread apart, and who takes up as much space as he possibly can.
On the other hand, you might not be surprised to learn that the research indicates women may:
- be expressive, tentative, and polite in conversation
- display more AFFILIATIVE body movement such as smiling and open body postures. Not open as in man spreading, but open as in vulnerable.
- Women may also be more likely to touch their face and their hair. You’ve probably heard that this can be perceived as flirting. It can also signal anxiety and stress. Either way ladies, keep your hands off your face.
So that’s non verbal communication. We’re ready to move on to the last, the 7th of 7 communication elements. So far we’ve covered
- How much we talk,
- Our communication mindsets
- Our words (or vocabulary)
- Our voices
- Our listening skills
- Our non-verbal communication
The last communication element is confidence.
7. CONFIDENCE & IMPOSTER SYNDROME
You’ve probably heard and read a lot about imposter syndrome. But do you know the origin of the term?
In 1978, psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes studied high-achieving women. They were interested to learn what makes them tick and what differentiates them versus other women. They were surprised to learn that almost 100% of these high achieving women described what Clance and Imes called IMPOSTER PHENOMENON.
Thus the term was born.
Ever since then, people have been diagnosing “imposter syndrome” (or – doubting your abilities and feeling like a fraud) in themselves and particularly in women.
Recently though, the “imposter syndrome” discourse has shifted in at least three ways:
- It turns out that EVERYONE suffers from imposter syndrome!
- We should focus less on improving women’s confidence, and more on changing toxic work environments.
- “Confidence doesn’t equal competence.” Overconfidence (arrogance) is inversely correlated with leadership success. Humility can be a strength.
This is great news for all of us. I could go on here with all sorts of advice for you on how to communicate with confidence and credibility. But we’re focusing on gender differences. There’s one other point here that I want to share. There’s another commonly known phenomenon that illustrates the difference between men’s and women’s confidence. It’s with job applications. Apparently men are more likely to apply for a job or seek a promotion when they fulfil one of the many job criteria, while women will wait until they fulfill all of the criteria.
That says a lot, doesn’t it? It also might explain a lot in terms of the proportion of women in sr. executive positions.
Alright we’re through the list of 7 ways that women’s and men’s communication may differ. There’s
- How much we talk (turns out there’s no significant difference)
- Our communication mindsets (Women are more focused on relationships and emotions, while men are more direct and focused on tasks and information sharing.)
- Our words (Women are more likely to expressive and to use qualifiers and hedges. Men are more direct)
- Our voices (women are more likely to speak softly and possibly to employ upspeak. Men’s voices are deeper, and deeper voices are associated with credibility.)
- Our listening skills (our ears are the same and we hear the same things, but we listen differently, We focus on different things. Men listen to the words. Women also listen for nuance in terms of non verbal communication.
- Our non-verbal communication is the 6th communication element. There are big differences here. Women are more expressive, tentative and polite, while men are more assertive and expansive.) and last –
- Confidence – while more recent research shows that MOST of us – not just women – suffer from imposter syndrome, it seems that men demonstrate higher levels of self-confidence.
Who’s the better communicator?
So who’s the better communicator?
Oh no. There’s no right answer to that question.
But I will say this.
While I was combing through the research it occurred to me that these differences in communication styles also explains why diverse groups are more high performing. When men and women work together as a team, they can benefit from their diverse communication styles.
I’m curious, as you were listening to me run through all this research, did you consider whether your own personal communication style is consistent with the patterns found in the research?
We have a lot to learn from each other, don’t we?
Men can learn from how women tend to communicate. And women can learn from men.
For example, women might focus more on leading and being direct. Sometimes, not always, of course, but sometimes being direct is ideal. And women could also focus on not apologizing, not minimizing their comments, and not seeking permission to speak.
And men might focus more on nuance. At this point we have a much more thorough response for Mr. Yoshiro Mori, the Japanese Olympic official. Mr. Mori stated that when women’s speaking time isn’t restricted to a certain extent, they have difficulty finishing, which is annoying,”
Well, Mr. Mori, let me tell you what the research says. Academic research indicates that women do NOT talk more.
Unless, of course you’re referencing your medical doctor. Female doctors do spend more time and talk more with their patients. Women are also more likely to be tracking that ratio of how much people are talking. They’re more focused on taking turns in conversation.
Perhaps, Mr. Mori, you should try to do the same.
And THAT is a great place to end this episode! If you ever have any questions or suggestions for me, I LOVE hearing from you! Yes, even you, Mr. Mori.
There are multiple ways you can connect with me. Everything’s on the talkabouttalk.com website so that’s probably the best place to start. From there you can send me a message, connect with me on LinkedIn, and even leave me an audio recording. Like I said, I’d love to hear from you – bring it on.
And if you enjoyed this podcast episode, I hope you’ll share it with your friends and leave me a review on whatever podcast app you’re using. It really makes a difference and I appreciate it.
Thanks for listening. And talk soon!