The pattern of answers was revealing. The two other women in the group named Cheryl. Two of the three men named Phil. Of the men, only Phil named Cheryl. In other words, in this instance, the women evaluated the contribution of another woman more accurately than the men did. Meetings like this take place daily in companies around the country. Unless managers are unusually good at listening closely to how people say what they mean, the talents of someone like Cheryl may well be undervalued and underutilized.
Individual speakers vary in how sensitive they are to the social dynamics of language—in other words, to the subtle nuances of what others say to them.
Men tend to be sensitive to the power dynamics of interaction, speaking in ways that position themselves as one up and resisting being put in a one-down position by others. Women tend to react more strongly to the rapport dynamic, speaking in ways that save face for others and buffering statements that could be seen as putting others in a one-down position.
These linguistic patterns are pervasive; you can hear them in hundreds of exchanges in the workplace every day. And, as in the case of Cheryl and Phil, they affect who gets heard and who gets credit. Even so small a linguistic strategy as the choice of pronoun can affect who gets credit. But that solution is problematic because we associate ways of speaking with moral qualities: The way we speak is who we are and who we want to be.
Veronica, a senior researcher in a high-tech company, had an observant boss. He noticed that many of the ideas coming out of the group were hers but that often someone else trumpeted them around the office and got credit for them. Whatever the motivation, women are less likely than men to have learned to blow their own horn. Many have argued that the growing trend of assigning work to teams may be especially congenial to women, but it may also create complications for performance evaluation.
There are many women and men—but probably relatively more women—who are reluctant to put themselves forward in this way and who consequently risk not getting credit for their contributions. The CEO who based his decisions on the confidence level of speakers was articulating a value that is widely shared in U. Here again, many women are at a disadvantage. Studies show that women are more likely to downplay their certainty and men are more likely to minimize their doubts. Psychologist Laurie Heatherington and her colleagues devised an ingenious experiment, which they reported in the journal Sex Roles Volume 29, They asked hundreds of incoming college students to predict what grades they would get in their first year.
Some subjects were asked to make their predictions privately by writing them down and placing them in an envelope; others were asked to make their predictions publicly, in the presence of a researcher. The results showed that more women than men predicted lower grades for themselves if they made their predictions publicly.
Employee Engagement Survey. As a form of social behavior, language also negotiates relationships. Remember Share memories or express condolences below. Research has long documented the crucial importance of leaders, supervisors, and organizational culture in strategic employee communications. Activation of this system when discussing the self suggests that self-disclosure, like other more traditionally recognized stimuli, may be inherently pleasurable —and that people may be motivated to talk about themselves more than other topics no matter how interesting or important these non-self topics may be. Somehow she had been positioned as the novice in need of his expert advice.
If they made their predictions privately, the predictions were the same as those of the men—and the same as their actual grades. These habits with regard to appearing humble or confident result from the socialization of boys and girls by their peers in childhood play. As adults, both women and men find these behaviors reinforced by the positive responses they get from friends and relatives who share the same norms.
But the norms of behavior in the U. Although asking the right questions is one of the hallmarks of a good manager, how and when questions are asked can send unintended signals about competence and power. In a group, if only one person asks questions, he or she risks being seen as the only ignorant one. Furthermore, we judge others not only by how they speak but also by how they are spoken to. The way boys are socialized makes them more likely to be aware of the underlying power dynamic by which a question asker can be seen in a one-down position.
One practicing physician learned the hard way that any exchange of information can become the basis for judgments—or misjudgments—about competence. During her training, she received a negative evaluation that she thought was unfair, so she asked her supervising physician for an explanation. He said that she knew less than her peers. Amazed at his answer, she asked how he had reached that conclusion. Along with cultural influences and individual personality, gender seems to play a role in whether and when people ask questions.
I explain that men often resist asking for directions because they are aware that it puts them in a one-down position and because they value the independence that comes with finding their way by themselves.
Asking for directions while driving is only one instance—along with many others that researchers have examined—in which men seem less likely than women to ask questions. I believe this is because they are more attuned than women to the potential face-losing aspect of asking questions. And men who believe that asking questions might reflect negatively on them may, in turn, be likely to form a negative opinion of others who ask questions in situations where they would not.
Conversation is fundamentally ritual in the sense that we speak in ways our culture has conventionalized and expect certain types of responses. Take greetings, for example. To Americans, How are you? Bob: Oh, not very well. Ritual apologies—like other conversational rituals—work well when both parties share the same assumptions about their use. Apologies tend to be regarded differently by men, who are more likely to focus on the status implications of exchanges.
Many men avoid apologies because they see them as putting the speaker in a one-down position. I observed with some amazement an encounter among several lawyers engaged in a negotiation over a speakerphone. At one point, the lawyer in whose office I was sitting accidentally elbowed the telephone and cut off the call.
I knocked the phone with my elbow. One minute you were there; the next minute you were gone! For me, it was one of those pivotal moments when you realize that the world you live in is not the one everyone lives in and that the way you assume is the way to talk is really only one of many.
Those who caution managers not to undermine their authority by apologizing are approaching interaction from the perspective of the power dynamic. In many cases, this strategy is effective. On the other hand, when I asked people what frustrated them in their jobs, one frequently voiced complaint was working with or for someone who refuses to apologize or admit fault. In other words, accepting responsibility for errors and admitting mistakes may be an equally effective or superior strategy in some settings.
Styles of giving feedback contain a ritual element that often is the cause for misunderstanding. Consider the following exchange: A manager had to tell her marketing director to rewrite a report. The impasse resulted from different linguistic styles. To the manager, it was natural to buffer the criticism by beginning with praise. Telling her subordinate that his report is inadequate and has to be rewritten puts him in a one-down position.
Praising him for the parts that are good is a ritualized way of saving face for him. Instead, he assumed that what she mentioned first was the main point and that what she brought up later was an afterthought. Those who expect feedback to come in the way the manager presented it would appreciate her tact and would regard a more blunt approach as unnecessarily callous.
Exchanging compliments is a common ritual, especially among women. A mismatch in expectations about this ritual left Susan, a manager in the human resources field, in a one-down position.
She and her colleague Bill had both given presentations at a national conference. An unpleasant feeling of having been put down came over her. Somehow she had been positioned as the novice in need of his expert advice. Even worse, she had only herself to blame, since she had, after all, asked Bill what he thought of her talk.
But had Susan asked for the response she received? In fact, her question had been an attempt to repair a ritual gone awry. She was just talking automatically, but he either sincerely misunderstood the ritual simply took the opportunity to bask in the one-up position of critic.
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Although this exchange could have occurred between two men, it does not seem coincidental that it happened between a man and a woman. Linguist Janet Holmes discovered that women pay more compliments than men Anthropological Linguistics , Volume 28, In the social structure of the peer groups in which they grow up, boys are indeed looking for opportunities to put others down and take the one-up position for themselves.