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Masculine-Feminine Difference: How We Talk in Meetings

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OFFICE MEETING
Bartłomiej Szewczyk via Getty Images

In the workplace (and in life), there are masculine and feminine ways that we (men and women) express ourselves. The masculine style of speech is more confident, the feminine more humble. I have written about the basic differences in a recent post, using the prototype "Max" to represent the masculine style and the prototype "Fran" to represent the feminine. How do these differences show up in meetings?

First, the masculine ("Max") style is to take up room (spread out) and time (speak at length). The feminine ("Fran") style is to speak more concisely, share airtime and take up less room.

Many people think women talk more than men. Research indicates that who talks more depends on the context; in groups of six more (as in business meetings), men do more of the talking. Explaining his ideas at length enhances Max's status and demonstrates his commitment to his ideas. Max is more likely to step in and push his ideas. Fran is less comfortable interrupting someone who is speaking and may give up the floor when she is interrupted. In her worldview, these maintain relationships. As a result, her voice may not be heard.

Women often report that they have offered an idea in a meeting with men; there is little response. A few minutes later a man says essentially the same thing and gets support and credit for the idea. She may feel unheard. He is not being rude. He may not have heard her or thought she didn't feel strongly about her point. That may be because she was speaking "Fran." Or, because he works like he plays, he may think it fair game to pick up her idea and carry it to the finish line.

If we do not understand these differences, we may judge both Max and Fran. We may judge Max for hogging the airtime or talking over Fran. We may judge Fran for not speaking up or asserting her ideas. We may miss Fran's good ideas and shut her down. We may let Max dominate when someone less assertive has a better idea.

Have you observed these differences in meeting behavior? What have you done to be sure both "languages" are heard and interpreted correctly?