Differences in Gender Communication

This paper attempts to review for the reader a selection of literature that study and analyze the differences that exist between men and women and the manner in which they communicate. Not only do these pieces of literature fall into different categories and specialties, they also deliver varied opinions and results as to what causes the differences discussed. By becoming familiar with the many aspects of gender communication differences, the responsible worker or manager can synthesize those findings into a methodology that enhances work place communication.

The literature available on gender communication differences, when analyzed, display themes of discussion. They are listed below in order of importance, followed by the different trends that fall under each theme: •Theme: Verbal Differences •Observable Behaviors •Mixed-Gender Supervisors and Subordinates •Mixed-Gender Coworkers •Mixed-Gender Interview Sessions •Theme: Non-Verbal Differences •Body Language •Sexual Harassment •Theme: Stereotypes •Development and Perpetuation •Awareness and Avoidance •Theme: Counter-Effects Theme: Computer-Mediated Communication •Theme: Implications for Libraries The following pages will analyze these themes and their trends in more detail. Verbal Differences Investigations into the differences between men and women and the ways in which they communicate span many areas of inquiry, including psychology, sociology, and business literature. The primary focus of all these fields is on the verbal differences between genders. As most articles point out, both genders use the same language… where then does the difference in use come about?

The most basic studies of gender communication differences, such as those by Rosner, Cangemi, and Chambers, list several findings they claim to be strictly observable behaviors. For example, Rosner states that men speak to convey facts, not details, and utilize language as a means of independence; that is to say, they speak to maintain or demonstrate deservedness of authority (2001). This same author describes the speech patterns of women as being driven toward detail and a sense of developing relationships, rather than sustaining independence. According to Rosner, males and females use language to control the level of intimacy (2001).

Both Cangemi and Chambers mark the use of qualifying statements by females, such as “Don’t you think? ” as an attempt to engender a non-hostile atmosphere, where as men do the exact opposite in an attempt to spur confrontation and competition (Cangemi, 2001)(Chambers, 2003). These authors state language is used as a representation of social power; those who have or want social power (which tend to be men) use language to either demonstrate dominance or to gain it, while those who do not have social power (usually women) use it to maintain peaceful and harmonious relations with those in charge. Cangemi, 2001)(Chambers, 2003). Studies of workplace communication reveal many of these same findings. Coates portrays how the tendency of women to talk more when giving orders to male subordinates creates in the male a distance that the woman then interprets as resentment (2004). Coates also describes how the scarcity of words and emotion when a male supervisor gives orders to a female employee may engender in the woman a desire to strengthen their relationship via words. This creates for the male an illusion of inattention on the part of the woman (2004).

Most of these authors point out that such differences in perspective may impede either gender’s progress up the company ladder. Yet another trend in the literature studying verbal communication differences in the workplace focuses on mixed-gender coworkers with equal levels of authority. Although most literature in this field addresses the gender communication problems encountered between manager and subordinate, Holmes brings up the presence of gender differences affecting communication between peers. Holmes describes how the friendly argumentative competition that ormally occurs between males or the relation-building banter between females can lead to drastic misinterpretations in a mixed-gender task force (2003). A final noticeable trend in the investigation of verbal differences between genders is the literature addressing mixed-gender interview sessions. The training manuals and literature many businesses produce to ensure equality during the interview mainly document what constitutes an illegal interview question. This type of information is best exemplified in the writings of Bell, who details the types of questions that are prohibited by law (but are many times asked anyway).

These laws are in place to protect women from discrimination in the hiring process, and run counter to the normal studies of gender communication differences in the sense that the women being interviewed understand the nature of the questions (such as “Do you plan to have a baby in the future? ”) but rather are made to feel uncomfortable by the prying character of the questions (Bell, 2000). All of these numerous perspectives contribute to making verbal differences the primary focus of the available literature regarding gender communication. Non-Verbal Differences

The second-most prevalent theme of discussion regarding gender communication differences is the study of non-verbal differences. Many of the authors are in agreement about the types and effects of non-verbal communication, resulting in fewer areas of investigation. Nearly all the authors who discuss non-verbal gender communication differences do so by putting forth examples, as exemplified by authors Wharton, Kitchen, and Sorenson. They posit the notion that posture and body language do more to hinder effective communication between genders by subconsciously indicating discomfort, uneasiness, aggression, and impatience (Wharton, 2005).

Wharton explains how a female manager giving directions to a male subordinate may invoke in the male a belief of her incompetence. This is because her body language suggests to the man that she is too nervous, when this is actually not the case (Wharton, 2005). On the other hand, Kitchen describes how a woman subordinate may believe her male manager to be angry with her when he is merely being direct and succinct (2001). In yet a different perspective, Sorenson depicts the nodding of heads by women to be interpreted by their ale co-workers as agreement and acceptance, when they are merely intended by the women as an indication of attention (Sorenson, 2001). A secondary trend in the literature detailing non-verbal communication behavior in the workplace deals with the issue of sexual harassment, represented here by Gustafsson. He argues that while overt (verbal) sexual harassment occurs, there are more subtle ways in which men create a communication gap through unconscious attitudes or mannerisms that put women on the defensive (Gustafsson, 2000).

All of these pieces of literature are valuable by providing to the reader different scenarios that encapsulate the essence of the gender communication gap. Stereotypes Analysis of the literature regarding either verbal or non-verbal communication differences reveals an interesting, more subtle theme of discussion: the development and perpetuation of gender stereotypes. Most of the authors above conclude their findings with references to gender stereotypes. Still others, represented in this review by Hayes and Samartseva, focus on and detail the way stereotypes affect gender communication.

Hayes states that stereotypes are the single most cause of misunderstandings between the genders in the work place, especially larger organizations where the work force doesn’t have a chance to develop closer relationships (2004). Hayes argues that when people are placed in a confrontation with an unknown person, or when that person’s mood and attitude is an unknown factor, people fall back subconsciously to their stereotyped images in order to interpret both verbal and non-verbal communication (2004).

Samartseva discusses how stereotypes are conceptual frameworks built from observable behaviors that act as a way of predicting the world. However, she also points out that the development of stereotypes can lead to situations in which self-filling prophecies rule perceptions (2002). This finding is also evidenced by studies of management styles in the workplace. Stewart and Van der Lippe depict the varying ways in which men and women view their opposite-gendered superior.

Stewart compares the preferred management style of male and females, stating that “Women feel a need to be involved with their subordinates while men believe that good management entails not being involved in what their subordinates are doing” (2001). However, Van der Lippe illustrates how men, although not taking part or interfering, actively watch their subordinates’ proceedings, a practice that makes their female co-workers feel they aren’t trusted or viewed as competent workers (2001). A final trend of the stereotype theme discusses ways to be aware of the presence of stereotypes and how to avoid them.

These are most often found in business tip sheets and training manuals (Sanders, 2000) (Lieberman, 2000). Many of these recap the observable behaviors discussed above in the verbal and non-verbal differences, yet aim to educate co-workers in an attempt to maintain a harmonious day-to-day work environment by avoiding gender conflicts and understanding them when they do occur. Counter-effects As mentioned above, the majority of the literature unveils a theme of discussion in the communication difficulties that come about as a result of gender due to stereotyping.

However, a number of articles and studies indicate that there is another, secondary, trend in gender stereotype discussion. Fuchs and Bovee, as representatives of this counter-effect, discuss the situation of a male subordinate and a female supervisor. Normally, as detailed in the review above, the female feels a need to build and maintain a friendly or harmonious relationship with her male subordinates. Her use of language and non-verbal communication bring about a response in the male of alienation due to a perception of anxiety and incompetence.

The reverse of this tendency, as Fuchs and Bovee indicate, is for the female supervisor to “take on the qualities and mannerisms of a man,” hoping to minimize the perception of incompetence (Fuchs, 2004). The results they report are of considerable interest to both men and women: the female supervisor is no longer viewed as incompetent, but rather is cold and unfeminine. As Bovee states, this puts the women in management positions into a lose-lose situation (2000). Addressing this predicament represents a growing section in training manuals and tip sheets. A Recent Trend: Computer Mediated Communication

A growing theme of discussion focuses on the possibility of reducing gender differences by the utilization of computer-mediated communication (CMC). Many older psychological studies, such as performed by Hulit, reveal that people cannot discern from written text the gender of the author. The fad in the past few years was the assumption of this application to such mediums as email or instant messaging. However, the majority of current literature states that gender inequality is not alleviated by CMC; indeed, one article by Postmes draws the opposite conclusion.

Postmes concludes the study by commenting “when unable to make clear individual distinctions between group members, and unable to identify them as men or women, gender differences were more accentuated than when such individual distinctions could be made” (2002). Even those articles that do not make such strong statements about CMC‘s failure to alleviate gender inequalities, such as Boneva and Savicki, postulate reasons why CMC is no more or less helpful than traditional methods in assuaging gender communication differences.

Boneva explains that women tend to communicate more than men, even when the medium is electronic, thus falling prey to the stereotype of women being more “talkative” (2001). Savicki draws the opposite conclusion of Hulit, stating the many linguistic speech patterns that differentiate males from females in face-to-face conversation are present in electronic format, thus revealing the gender of the “speaker” (2000). It will be interesting to note if there is a continuing trend toward synthesizing the conflicting perspectives of this issue in the future. Implications for Libraries

Conflicts in a work environment resulting from gender communication differences can lead to strife between management levels and co-workers, affecting the operation of the entire organization. This holds no less true in the field of library and information science. Recognition of this leads to the final theme in the discussion of gender differences in communication. Employment trends in recent years have indicated greater numbers of men entering the library profession (Piper, 2001). They are doing so at all levels of the organization, from reference librarians to administrators (Piper, 2001).

In what has traditionally been perceived as a “female” profession, this trend creates fertile ground for communication conflicts and misunderstandings galore (Piper, 2001). Administrators, managers, and co-workers should be kept knowledgeable of the current literature pertaining to gender communication differences. They should also be exposed to the training manuals and tip sheets offered from the realm of business administration in order to better their awareness of these differences and the effects they can have on the work environment. Piper, 2001) Conclusion There are many different themes in the discussion of the subject of gender communication differences, with each displaying various trends that fall under that theme. The primary focus, logically, is on the verbal differences, followed by the nonverbal behaviors that can exacerbate communication struggles. Out of these two trends of discussion arise a third and fourth theme, those of the construction and utilization of gender based stereotypes, and the counter-effects of stereotyping.

Finally, the impact of digitization reveals studies of computer-mediated communication and its effect on gender inequality through communication to be a fifth major theme. All of these themes of discussion represent subject areas where data will continue to be gathered in support of or to refute those conclusions already given, and will continue to have lasting implications on the ways in which libraries are organized and managed.