Effectively conveying messages that fit the audience’s needs is crucial for women to succeed in their chosen career paths. Excelling at communication sounds easier said than done. Many women struggle in male-centric workplaces when communicating their ideas. Often, they are cut off, interrupted, and even dismissed in meetings. These setbacks undermine their confidence, limiting their visibility instead of raising to the occasion.
Recovering from communication setbacks is necessary if women want their voices heard. One crucial step is identifying the external and internal factors and deciding what is under one’s influence and control.
Externally, gender, race attitudes and biases, create obstacles for women to have their contributions acknowledged at work. While some workplaces are more inclusive of different styles and personalities, most organizations are more prescriptive pressing for assimilation. We are still a long way from creating spaces where women can feel comfortable expressing themselves spontaneously without being judged.
A Forbes Coaches Council Article points out that companies become more inclusive when leaders recognize and even embrace unique communication styles, maintaining an open, accessible culture that champions diversity.
There are effective ways women can address their discomfort when they are subject to micro-aggressions, such as being interrupted, or being left last to speak in meetings when there were only few minutes left. Sometimes describing the discrepancies can make the audience aware of the impact of these subtle behaviors on the recipients. Talking about them requires courage and the right approach when intention and impact are not aligned. Some Firms are creating the conditions for honest and respectful exchanges that involve empathy, respect, and openness by providing Diversity & Inclusion training.
While it is impossible to control the environmental dynamics at play in our society, there are steps that women can take to communicate with greater poise, persuasiveness, and impact.
According to Sally Helgesen, women tend to disclose too much information, show too many emotions, and over-explain. Women who have received feedback from bosses and peers regarding these communication patterns feel inadequate, awkward, and inauthentic when trying to fit in. I once was told my contributions were relevant, but Managers did not have enough time to listen to my HR advice. I realized I was giving too much information. I learned how to be more concise while protecting my style and credibility.
If you tend to over-explain, you probably lose your audience in the first five minutes. You can become more effective by being more concise. Here are some suggestions:
- Prepare before meetings. Have the end in mind. Based on the purpose of your communication, prepare messages aligned with your intentions.
- Focus on your audience. Anticipate their needs and to what extent you can keep the conversation at a high level or a more detailed view.
- Share your main ideas first, pause, and if you’re asking for more details, share the context, or provide additional information as needed.
- Practice timing your messages. Maybe you can be more efficient using an economy of words rather than very long and wordy sentences.
- Your body speaks more than your words. Monitor your posture, eye contact, voice volume, and gestures, such as using your hands to emphasize your point vs. moving them aimlessly. It is not what you say, it is how you say it what matters.
- Present yourself from a position of confidence by choosing your words. Stay away from self-sabotage language that introduces uncertainty, doubt, and hesitation. For example, starting a sentence using “I think”, “maybe”, or “perhaps”.
- Be willing to ask for feedback. One approach is to contact key audience members in a one-to-one process, soliciting suggestions to sharpen your delivery.
Remember that you have a right to be who you are; if you are the only one who looks like you and behaves like you, others will perceive you as different because you are different, and that is perfectly ok! While there is a human need to fit and belong, accepting your uniqueness is the first step in embracing who you are and the value you bring.
Be empowered to have your voice heard. Communication challenges have solutions when you focus on what you can control, and that is learning how to communicate with more confidence, impact, and influence.