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Women's Language, Women's Power

by PowerSpeaking, Inc.     Dec 18, 2014 12:59:00 PM

It is budget time. Several decision makers watch as a female walks to the front, smiles and begins her presentation.

Thank you so much for coming. I’m so pleased to see your bright faces. I have a phenomenal budget that I know you’ll really like because it’s going to be terribly important to our division.



Imagine the same scene, this time aware of her speech patterns, she presents to the Board of Directors.

Our new budget will allow us to reach our goals yes control expenses—the first time in two years. Let's look at it.

Women communicate differently than men.

  • We are more polite.
  • We qualify what we say.
  • We appear indecisive because we ask for permission or add questions to the end of our statements.
  • We use “women only” words.

The result? Women are often not taken as seriously in business and in everyday communication. We undermine our communication process. 

Let’s take a look at some of the patterns women use—and consider stronger alternatives.

Problem Language

Are you using “women only” adjectives and adverbs in your speech? For example, charming, adorable, lovely, sweet and cute  are words that few men use. Adverbs such as so, really, terribly, quite, awfully and simply do not add to understanding, but instead differentiate female from male communication. We trivialize our intent when we use words that are weak and/or irrelevant.

Tag Questions or Reflections
Let’s look at examples of some statements with tag questions.
  • “It sure is cold, don’t you think?”
  • “It will be done by Friday?” (with an upward inflection)
  • “I really presented that clearly, didn’t I?”

Ending with a question gives away the certainty, the power. With rising inflection or a “tag question,” a statement falls between the cracks: is it a request for information or is it a statement? Such a language pattern gives the impression that you’re saying:

  • “I’m not sure of my facts.”
  • “I need to be liked and want your approval.”
  • “I want to do something but I’ll change my mind if you don’t approve.”

In simplified (and over-generalized) terms: men command by making a statement; women request through indirect statements in hopes for approval.

What are little girls made of? “Sugar and spice and everything nice.” A silly childhood rhyme, true, but it illustrates the notion that women exemplify our ideal morality. As a polite creature that can empathize, concur, and accommodate, we reduce our social status and give away our power.

According to a recent Toastmaster Magazine article, women ask 70% of the questions in order to “bring others out.”

Imagine a woman manager making a request of her assistant, “Will you please prepare these slides for me as soon as possible, okay?” The assistant is doing her manager a favor by creating the slides. I am not suggesting that it is better to be rude or dominating, but rather, women must choose words that exhibit directness and clarity.

“Snakes and snails and puppy dogs’ tails,” are what little boys are made of. Men have language patterns that affect women, too.
  • Men dominate conversations.
  • Men speak at greater lengths.
  • Men are more likely to interrupt conversations.

A recent study showed that when women are in conversation with other women, or when men are talking to men, there are about equal interruptions. In a mixed group, all politeness disappears. Men make 96% of all interruptions.

It is also true that if a woman is speaking and is interrupted by a man, she is usually silenced. Even if a woman tries to get the floor again, she probably won’t succeed. In our benevolence, we weaken our leadership roles and even give up some of our self-esteem.

These language patterns communicate self-doubt and uncertainty. Although this is predominantly a female problem, men are not immune to the weak language trap. Whether used by males or females, the patterns are destructive.

How To Develop Powerful Language
Being aware of our language patterns is an enormous step.
There are many ways to do this.
  • Tape recording — Record your conversations in a business meeting or on the phone. Then analyze your language for patterns that trivialize communication.
  • Videotaping—If you have a major presentation coming up, rehearse on video. There is no better way to make behavioral changes. As a “third party” watching the video, you can check for verbal patterns, body language and self-confidence. Modify your word use to create the greatest impact.
  • Interruptions—When interrupted, politely, but firmly, and with a slightly raised voice, indicate that you would like to finish your statement and then proceed. Don’t automatically give in! Believe in your right to “have the floor.” 
  • Self-Concept—More and more women are becoming aware that self-deprecating behavior is the result of a self-esteem issue. If your patterns undermine your credibility, be willing to look at your self-concept. Counseling, inter-personal communication workshops and presentation skills seminars are all available options.
  • Look and Listen—Take some time to make changes by studying those people who are effective and dynamic communicators. What do they do? How do they present information? Contrast their success with someone who is not a strong presenter. Incorporate those successful behaviors into your own repertoire.

SummaryWomen don’t have to communicate less effectively than men. Awareness is the key. Style can change. The results for you will be greater self-confidence, stronger impact and a more dynamic presentation. 



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Related blog post: What's Your Journey Line? 

About the Author

PowerSpeaking, Inc.

Topics: Leadership, Presentation Tips, Delivery Style, Presentation Skills, Women's Language

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