A gender difference is an area that is difficult to understand and it has led to miscommunications and lots of controversies. It has led to miscommunication and misinterpretation of information in many areas more so within the family. Furthermore, recent studies are attributing gender differences as the leading source of miscommunication in the work place. In deed attempts to farther find out the gist of this facts has been thwarted with controversies of peoples personalities and this is why some scholars opt to look at this challenge through the eyes of culture. Hence, these scholars have noted that each gender is just like a culture in itself, and that each of these cultures comes with varied norms and standards which are easily misunderstood by the people of opposite sex.
Deborah Tanen has buoyed these researchers by adding her take on this issue. She has noted that miscommunication can arise between men and women at work place following the gender differences in understanding the way each person uses and responds to different styles of communication. For instance, she has identified verbal and non verbal communications which make a person of opposite sex to misinterpret the intended outcome of the communication. Without a doubt, she has noted listening and facial expression as the major non verbal communications leading to miscommunication and communication dominance as the major verbal aspect leading to the same.
In non verbal communication one can easily identify the miscommunications arising from difference in gender. For example, in a meeting where participants involved are half men and half women the reactions that each of the two gender groups will exhibit to the speaker addressing the meeting will be different. Most researches have revealed that in these kinds of meetings, the women will nod their heads to almost every statement from the speaker, others will also say words like yes and okay. On the contrary, a close observation on the reactions of men has revealed that a number of men in the same meeting will just sit straight looking at the speaker as she/he presents whereas some will just sit straight and take notes. To men, sitting straight and taking notes may mean they are paying attention and being focused on the task at hand. But to women, nodding and making responses like okay means they are relating with the speaker and that they understand what the speaker implies. In this regard it is easy for men to misinterpret what these gestures mean because most men will only nod when they agree with the speaker. Therefore, problem can arise when women repeatedly nods and men misinterpret the woman’s habitual rapport-building nodding as accepting or agreeing to what the speaker says yet she might not necessarily be in agreement.
Usually the consequences that can result due to these non verbal gestures are adverse and can hinder implementation of activities in the organization. For instance, one female manager in one of the multinational corporations was trying to explain some of her ideas to a male manager in a similar department. The male manager was keenly listening and felt that he should not interrupt by bringing unnecessary interjections, thus he decided not to nod or say anything until the female manager gets done with the presentation of her ideas. As they were just about to be done with the meeting, the female manager told the male counterpart that from the outlook it’s obvious that he is neither interested nor is he concerned with the ideas she is sharing across. On this note, the female manager walked away from the meeting leaving the male manager confused and surprised.
One more non verbal communication due to gender differences that can lead to miscommunication and misinterpretation of the information being presented is the facial expression. As noted by the recent researches, women usually smile more during conversations to create a comfortable and a relaxed environment for the conversation. Also, they smile more to encourage others and sustain the conversation, to put others at ease as well as to fill in the gaps in the conversation. In fact, Turner and Weed (2010) noted that, in a single conversation men will smile at approximated 8% of the time unlike their female counterparts at 18%. Since women find it easy to smile most of the time, they have always found it very challenging to accept men’s lack of smile and this is confusing to most of them. Thus, they believe this inability of men to smile is a sign of men’s unwillingness to remain focused, pay attention and remain friendly throughout the conversation. And usually, the consequence of men being hard on smiles is the assumption that they are disagreeing with the ideas being presented. This is why one female employee once felt that the male manager was disagreeing with her ideas simply because the manager remained serious and hardly smiled during the conversation.
On the other hand, verbal communication has also proved as a contributing factor to miscommunication brought by gender differences. In most of the conversations, men are more likely to interrupt unlike their female counterparts who will prefer to exhibit introvert position. For example, most women have been investigated and found to allow men to talk more in conversations where they feel that they have been sidelined because of the constant interruptions by the male employees. This has got a consequence of demeaning other people’s value. Moreover, most of the women who feel that men talk more and man manages the conversation feel despised when their contributions are constantly ignored and their self esteem is lowered when they are not able to contribute to the discussion. Consequently, male dominance in the conversations and meetings creates a feeling that the men’s frequent interruption is nothing but a show of aggressiveness. In deed to these women, man is nothing better than a person without respect and that who do not respects or values other people’s ideas.
In addition, other researchers have added their voice on the miscommunication that results due to male’s verbal communication and dominance in the work place. They have noted that, it is easy to misinterpret male employee’s acclamations and teases. A good example noted by one of the researchers is where a certain female employee who was always teased by a male counterpart on her dressing felt an easy, disgusted and discouraged. The male employee had good intentions to appreciate the wears and sometimes to make fun and develop humor of the clothes but this had different consequences since the female employee felt that she is not liked and that she is ugly. This discouraged her and lowered her self esteem, thus she remained in a state of gloom caused by misinterpretation of a verbal communication (Turner and Weed, 2010).
As noted above, communication is one of the major reasons why gender related work place differences exists and one easy way of getting solution is to ensure that there is a program in place to discuss the differences raised above. Also, women will naturally find themselves changing conversation topic to ensure that a male counterpart who has just joined their group feel as part of the team. Additionally, women try to get solution to the miscommunications due to gender differences by holding back when in meetings and trying as much as possible not to interrupt the converse. Deborah has also noted that there can never be any solutions to these problems if not gender talk as the talking is the only way through which these issues can be addressed and solved in a constructive way that lowers miscommunication and the likely conflict. Also, solving the miscommunications as they arise can be a good way of finding solutions as this will prevent reoccurring of the similar problem.
Moving from one culture to the other may also bring with it the problem of completing tasks as expected and the challenge of associating the rewards that result from the task. Some cultures prefer working as a team to accomplish task at hand and they also foster early relationship building during the process. For instance, European-Americans who lives in America would prefer to complete task at hand and let the relationship build as the work progresses, whereas Asian and Hispanic cultures prefer initiating relationship as the team work starts. This culture may be difficult for an individual who prefers individualism, and he may find himself being left behind in the most tasks. Additionally, the role that a person plays when making decision is affected by the culture. A good case is in US where decision making is a process of duty delegation, in which case a senior assigns decision making to the junior officer. However, a closer look at the Southern European countries reveal a different trend where decision making is left for oneself, and there is a very strong value that is placed on this. An individual who prefers to make decision himself will feel despised when he is in a culture where he must delegate the decision making to the junior. The last problem that may arise by changing culture is the difference in the way that people acquire information. Some cultures place more value in knowing things by measuring and counting whereas others get their information based on symbols, imagery and rhythm. Those who value factual information from measuring and counting will ignore information obtained from imagery and symbolism.
It is very definite that gender related conflicts are subset of cross cultural communication. This is because, there are numerous ways in which one’s gender determines the way the person relates, send and diagnose information. In deed as discussed above one’s gender plays a very big role in determining what, why and how an individual is going to be involved in the communication. Genders also determine how an individual reacts and respond during communication.
Furthermore, as discussed above, the three constraints to communication and culture change are brought about by gender differences and they play a big role in determining cross cultural communication. For instance, cognitive constraints are not the same across the two genders and they are also very important in cross cultural understanding. The main reason why cognitive constraints, a gender related communication problem is considered as a contribution factor to the cross cultural communication problems is based on the fact that every person view the world based on some references. Therefore, new information will always be compared with stored information or will be based on an individual’s references, and depending with the reference, an individual can chose to accept or disown communication and conversation. The other constraint, behavior constraint directly plays a key role on cross cultural communication problem. As a major factor that contributes to miscommunication due to gender differences, behavior constraint will influence how a member of one gender will associate with members of the other genders. This in turn affects verbal and non verbal communication which later results to misunderstanding and communication problem across the other cultures. Ultimately, emotional constraint which is majorly displayed by the female has a long effect in cross cultural communication problems.
Avruch, K. and Black, P. eds. (2011). Conflict resolution in intercultural settings: problems and prospects, in conflict resolution theory and practice: integration and application. New York: St. Martin's Press.