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Are Women Better Communicators Than Men?

June 14, 2013 by Dr. Jon Warner in Communication with 0 Comments

Are Women Better Communicators Than Men?

Several studies in the last 30 years or so have consistently indicated that women are better communicators than men. Some of these suggest that women use many more words than men (in some cases using anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 words a day to a man’s 5,000 to 10,000). They also suggest that women’s capacity to listen with empathy is superior to men’s on average, with females being more prone to wait and let men finish their sentences, not interrupt so often in general and better paraphrase and summarize what has been said, as appropriate.

Modern neuroscience and studies in children and adolescents in particular tends to confirm these general findings with girls emerging as much more garrulous than boys, typically from age 3 to 16. In addition the complexity and sophistication of language is greater in girls (a gap that never closes it seems). Boys on average appear to catch up and talk more in the age 16-18 before becoming increasingly reticent on average after age 21 compared to women. Girls and young females, on the other hand, are not only more sophisticated talkers, but develop more in the realm of listening with greater focus and concentration as they age. 

When looking at the reasons for this apparently significant communication skill gap, many people go back to the origins of modern day humans and in particular our hunter and gatherer beginnings. They suggest that most men were cast in the role of quiet hunter, only communicating when necessary so as not to disturb potential prey, while women were left behind to tend a family and build relationships-the men then clearly saying little and the women doing most of the communicating. This learned behavior is subsequently deep in our genes and prevails into modern society and the world of work, where communicating is, at its most basic, a short and purposeful (and essentially one-way) signaling exercise for males and a longer, more general and two-way meaning exchange exercise for females.

In terms of workplace research, many post second world-war studies (when females were involved in the workplace in much greater numbers) suggest that women are generally better at getting longer lasting results because they have an open and more communication-friendly relating or leadership style that tends to be participatory and interactive as opposed to men’s command and control approach. In other words, women seem to have a more naturally interactive style and this encourages participation, as well as power and information sharing at all levels.  Research also suggests that men and women have very different communication styles in the workplace, when studied. A few generalized style adjectives from such research are shown in the table below:

Common Male Workplace Communication Styles Common Female Workplace Communication Styles
  • Energetic
  • Businesslike
  • Direct/Frank
  • Concise
  • Simple/Short
  • Externally oriented
  • Sociable
  • Emotional
  • Diplomatic
  • Empathetic
  • Complex/Long
  • Internally oriented

“The Female Brain” book by author Louann Brizendine, published in 2006, suggests that despite the fact that an average male brain is around 10 percent larger than the female brain, the size of the brain is unrelated to either a person’s intelligence or skill in communicating (both talking and listening). The determining factor is connections and in this regard the female brain has more “connections” between the brain’s two hemispheres. Females also have more than 10 percent more brain cells than males in the area of the brain called the planum temporale, which has to do with perceiving and processing language.

According to other neuroscience authors, the differences between the male and female brain don’t stop there. Women can speak on average at a speed of 250 words a minute (about 30% more than their average male counterpart) and have around 10 percent more neurons in the area of the brain devoted to emotions and memory. Because they have more “mirror neurons” they are also better at observing emotions in others. Females in studies have regularly been shown to excel at sensing what people are feeling well ahead of being discernible via the senses while males, on average, have difficulty spotting an emotion unless it can be seen or heard.

These differences in communication ability are often written about explicitly in books about male and female relationships. John Grays’s 2009 book, “Men are from Venus and men are from Mars” is a popular example of this. At its core Gray suggests that the average male most needs appreciation, approval and encouragement (among other things), all of which can be met by short communications in both directions ,while the average female most needs caring, understanding and reassurance (among other things) which are best met in the main by longer communications (in both speaking and listening). While Gray’s book focuses on the fact that these quite different drivers lead to unreliable mental models of the other party and therefore communication generally suffers as a result in personal relationships, the issue is just as important in workplace situations.

The first step to dealing with these varying needs is for both males and females to better appreciate each other’s potentially different goals when communicating with each other. The following is therefore offered as a brief guide to try in your next workplace communication, depending on whether you are a man or woman:

For Men when talking to Women: For Men when listening to Women:
  • Say more about how and why
  • Talk more quickly and include more detail
  • Accept that some conversations don’t need outcomes
  • Listen longer and with more concentration
  • Watch for body language and feelings more
  • Allow more time for the conversation when necessary and Interrupt less
For Women when talking to Men: For Women when listening to Men:
  • Be more concise if possible
  • Be as clear and direct as you can
  • Talk more slowly and on one topic/subject at a time
  • Be more explicit in your responses
  • Respond in structured/sequential ways
  • Appreciate the information conveyed (even when it is short)
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About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon is Editor-in-chief of ReadyToManage, Inc. and can be reached at Jon@OD-center.org

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About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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