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How Women Should Talk So Men Will Listen - Oct 21, 2009

How Women Should Talk So Men Will Listen

October 21, 2009 

Dr. Sylvia Gearing, TXA 21 News

How can a woman talk so a man will listen? With unprecedented numbers of women now working, our communication skills with men have never been more important. Here to shed some light on how to crack the communication code with men is TXA 21 News Contributing Psychologist, Dr. Sylvia Gearing.

Q: Why do so many women find it so hard to communicate effectively with the men at work?

Men and Women Use Language Differently: Men seem to be as confused as we are about how to communicate with us. There are fundamental gender differences in how men and women use language. Men use it to impart information (report talking) and we use it to establish and maintain relationships (rapport). Both language styles are effective but inevitably conflict in a high stakes workplace.

Gender Context, Impact and Intention: The bottom line is that both genders use their own gender specific rules to interpret verbal interactions. We disregard the fact that the verbiage of the opposite sex has it’s own gender specific context, impact and intention. Men understand other men very well but become frustrated with the unwritten rules of female conversation. Women think they say one thing and men hear something entirely different. As a result, both genders lose the opportunity to influence a business outcome optimally.

Disciplined Communication: According to Catalyst, women hold only 3% of the CEO positions in Fortune 500 companies so women have a long way to go in sharing equal power. As a result, it has never been more important for us to position our language correctly. Female empowerment in the workplace requires disciplined communication that can be easily understood by men.

Q: What are some of the primary language characteristics of each gender?

Here are just a few of the hundreds that exist:

Blunt Speak: Men are more direct, bottom line and less emotional than women in language usage. They listen intently until they think they get the facts. Then they make a decision to fix the problem and then they move on. They don’t talk things to death!

Women’s Intuitive Strategy: Women are brilliant in discerning social nuances. For example, men notice subtle signs of emotion (like sadness) in a face only 40% of the time. Women will pick up the signs 90% of the time even in the faces of complete strangers. So as the female leader heads into the business meeting, she is taking a depth reading of the every player in the room to optimize a business outcome. She is not being nice. She is being strategic.

Men Will Take Charge: Men tend to speak with authority and conviction even if they are unsure of the facts. They take the floor more often and hold the floor longer than women in a business setting. In fact, they interrupt more than women and control the business conversation, much to the frustration of many women.

Women Use More Disclaimers: Women often sabotage their message before they begin. They disclaim what they are saying before they say it. Comments such as “this may not make sense” are confusing to men. They are thinking that if it doesn’t make sense, why would you say it in the first place? Many men believe that women have to say something before they say it.

Q: So what are some great tips for our female viewers on improving their verbal communication with men at work?

Think Before You Speak: Develop a self-awareness of how you phrase your requests. Use direct, action-oriented verbs. Choose when you tilt your head according to the situation and message you want to portray. Keep your head on straight. Make eye contact with the group and always finish your statements or thoughts.

Silence is Golden: Stay quiet for a brief period before responding to a question. Sit quietly for a few seconds before you respond to a question. You may be viewed as more intelligent and thoughtful as you deliberate calmly before replying.

Stay Consistent: Make sure your nonverbal actions match your verbal messages. Watch what you wear, how you walk and what you say to everyone. Don’t be the driven employee one day and then make a scene at the Christmas party after a few too many eggnogs.

Q: As we all know, 70% of communication is non-verbal. What non-verbal communication strategies will give women an advantage with men at work?

Take Dominion: Please do not take it personally when he interrupts. It’s part of the way he talks with other men. Be ready to direct the discussion back to your topic. Establish control by making brief eye contact with the interrupter. Don’t look too long, because it seems like you’re asking permission. Use the interrupter’s name, and say directly, “Steve, I wasn’t quite finished.”

Take Up Space! Make a play for more power by taking up extra physical space at the meeting table. Sit regally without crossing your arms and legs. Do not curl up in a ball but stretch out! Use gestures such as pointing (not at people) to emphasize a few key issues.

Smile Selectively: You don’t have to be smiling all the time – you’ll only diminish the meaning of your smile. Never smile when you are delivering a serious message. People will read your expression as insincere.

Mirror, Mirror: When you’re talking to your boss, particularly if you have a disagreement, do not sit with your arms and legs crossed. Instead, mirror their movements slowly. If he touches his chin, you touch your chin. When he changes position in his chair, slowly change your position to match his. Mimicking can move you closer to a sense of agreement without his ever realizing it.

Dream Big and Aim High: Always ask for what you want. When you do ask, aim high. It is much easier to come down from a position than to go up.

Poker Face: Don’t leave your poker face at home. In business dealings, use less emotion and direct your female brain to discerning the mood of everyone in the room. View every business situation as a negotiation that requires a steady hand and a clear, unemotional mind.

For More Information about Dr. Gearing, please go to

Source: Code Switching, How to Talk So Men Will Listen, Claire Damken Brown, Ph.D. and Audrey Nelson, Ph.D.