Gender-based communication stereotypes debunked


Men and women don't really speak with differing levels of authority; it has to do with perceptions of subject matter.

That the men and women of your practice communicate with differing levels of authority and certainty is a foregone conclusion, right? Everyone knows that men speak with a direct confidence while women tend to be more tentative, don't they? As a new University of California, Davis study shows, in reality, genders' communication styles are not so easily stereotyped.

UC Davis assistant professor Nicholas Palomares debunked this communication myth with an experiment based in e-mail correspondence. He found that assertiveness had more to do with the perceived gender-specificity of a topic and to whom the message was supposedly being communicated than with the gender of the person initiating the message. For example, males attempting to write instructions for a female gender-stereotyped activity, like purchasing makeup, used more "hedging" language ("maybe," "sort of," "probably") when they thought the message was intended for a woman. Conversely, women thinking they were writing to men about typically masculine topics, such as changing a tire, also took a more tentative approach. Topics deemed to be gender-neutral elicited no tentativeness no matter the gender of the recipient.

Palomares concluded that only when there is a supposed conflict between one's gender and the assumed gender of a subject does a language of hesitance appear. Even then, it develops equally in men and women.

If in a meeting-or in the break room-you find yourself hedging or feeling unsure about committing to what you're saying, it may be time to reexamine perceptions of the discussion at hand. Just because your gender is theoretically not authoritative on a subject doesn't mean you can't be.

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