"You're not the boss of me!" My cousin Heather, would say as I
tried to convince her that my suggestions about Saturday morning
play time were always in her best interest. At the ripe old age of
4, I was simply trying to guide her through life with my expert
one-year older opinion on how "we" should operate. Watching the
theatrics of wrestle-mania TV, playing outdoors on the swing set,
and then creating our own dramatic reenactment of a musical
fairytale with homemade props sounded like a schedule that I
thought two young girls could get excited about.
Lauren, back in the 80s!
From the time young children learn to socialize, gendered
differences in communication begin to form as we unintentionally
learn societal norms and expectations of our life-roles by watching
personal models around us and tap into our genetic wiring.
Women and girls tend to use communication to build societal
connections and foster relationships while men and boys tend to
speak to exert dominance and to achieve a tangible outcome. Women
normally strive to be more social or value togetherness, while men
tend to value their independence.
Psychological differences in gendered communication are a
heavily studied area of academia and it certainly plays into the
perception of women in leadership roles.
Communication with a top down approach, or the I'm at the top
talking down to you approach associated with a more masculine
style, does not send a message of personal investment and
compassion to today's employee base. While formerly managers could
say, "JUMP!" and their workers would ask, "How high?"… There is a
new attitude emerging among workers that calls for mutual respect
and power sharing of goals and ideas; this paradigm shift in the
workplace lends itself to appreciating a feminine approach to
communication and leadership.
As women, we can channel our value of togetherness to motivate
our team to buy in to our organizational goals, which will provide
a healthier company mindset in the long run. Learn the strengths
and weaknesses of your communication style by asking your team what
areas you excel in and what you could improve upon. Then,
experiment by making adjustments to your style.
Whether "bossy" or "bewildered" or somewhere in between, being
aware of your management style and trying new ways of communication
will flex your leadership muscle and help you find your most
effective voice to be in sync with your team.
Stay tuned for Part II.
Dr. Lauren Ledbetter Griffeth, Extension Leadership
University of Georgia