The Language Lab (www.TheLanguageLab.ca), an industry-leading provider of business communications courses for clients worldwide, is releasing its comments on research suggesting that women’s and men’s speaking styles are perceived differently.
A new survey from the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research has found stark differences between men and women when it comes to the use of swear words. Almost twice as many men use the f-word daily compared to women. In addition, men are more likely to believe that swearing is acceptable in public. These results, as well as other research findings, suggest that women are judged differently when speaking. (Source: “Rude Behavior in Everyday Life and on the Campaign Trail,” The Associated Press and NORC, March 2016; http://www.apnorc.org/projects/Pages/HTML%20Reports/rude-behavior-in-everyday-life-and-on-the-campaign-trail.aspx.)
“There are differences in the way that men and women are perceived, particularly when it comes to communication,” says Dr. Sandra Folk, founder and president of The Language Lab. “There has been a lot of research showing that men and women are held to different standards in society. For instance, a woman who curses is viewed in a more negative light than a man doing the same, which could explain why women may be less likely to swear.”
In an experiment conducted by Arizona State University in 2015, researchers found that men speaking in angry tones were viewed as persuasive, while women using the same tone were labelled as “emotional” and “untrustworthy.” The researchers concluded that this bias could explain why presidential candidates like Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump speak more emotionally, while Hillary Clinton is much more guarded with her communication. (Source: Salerno J.M., et al., “One angry woman: Anger expression increases influence for men, but decreases influence for women, during group deliberation,” Law and Human Behavior, 2015 Dec;39(6):581-92. doi: 10.1037/lhb0000147. Epub 2015 Aug 31.)
“Unfortunately, there are many biases in our society that can end up having consequences for women in their daily lives and careers,” says Folk. “Although society has taken many steps forward in combating these biases, we still have a long way to go.”
Folk explains that this can be a particular problem for women in the workplace. “If they speak the same way men do, they can be viewed as too aggressive. However, if they act ‘lady-like,’ their opinions may be dismissed, they may be passed over for promotions, and they can be effectively silenced. It can be a lose-lose situation.”
Female public figures have begun to speak out about the challenges women face in the workplace. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg has compared speaking in the workplace to walking a tightrope, while actress Jennifer Lawrence has revealed that she was paid less than her male co-stars after not negotiating aggressively. Lawrence believes that women are conditioned not to offend men, which can harm them during negotiations.
“Even a woman’s body language can be perceived differently than a man’s,” says Folk. “Take, for instance, the term ‘resting bitch face.’ It refers to women who look angry, despite not showing any emotion on their face. There’s no similar term for men with the same facial expression.”
Folk says that the best defence against these biases is effective communication. “It’s important for women to speak clearly about what they believe, ask direct questions, and listen to their co-workers,” Folk says. “If a woman uses the right communication skills, she can challenge some of these norms and improve her status in the workplace.”
As an industry leader in business communication, The Language Lab provides full 10-week online language courses for clients, worldwide. It specializes in improving both oral and written communication for native English speakers and second language learners (ESL). Language Lab courses strengthen clients’ ability to achieve success with business writing, e-mail writing, report writing, PowerPoint, and speeches, using Practice Over Time methods.