News & Insight
March 2003

Women in Management: Learning the Business of Communications

Communication is the fuel of power, and communicating well is at the core of leadership.

Think about it. Every great leader, whether of a nation or a corporation, has had not only great vision, but also the ability to communicate it.

Men and women have their own styles of communicating. Women tend to personalize communications more than men. Put two women together, and in half an hour they will know a lot about each other. Put two men together, and you may have half an hour of uncomfortable silence punctuated by a rundown of last night's sports score.

Men also talk more than women in meetings and conferences. In fact, one reason why men's ideas are accepted more readily and more often than women's ideas is precisely because men talk more. Women don't speak enough in corporations, and they are not heard enough when they do speak.

How can women in management overcome the obstacles that block the path to effective communication? They can start by becoming better listeners, which, in turn, will enable them to be heard when they speak and be viewed as knowledgeable -- as having the information that generates power.

Listening is a powerful skill -- and one that is too often in short supply. Did you know that there even is an organization called the International Listening Association ( that promotes the study, development, and teaching of listening and the practice of effective listening skills and techniques? And that March is International Listening Awareness Month?

Here are five steps toward becoming a better listener.

Focus. Start by screening out all distractions, the physical and psychological noise that has nothing to do with the person who is talking. Pay attention to the speaker's manner, body language, and tone of voice, whether it is casual or forced, committed or indifferent, posed or genuine. Go behind the speech to hear what's driving the speaker. Then listen to every word he or she says.

Interpret. As you listen to the words, hear the meaning. What's really being said? Define what you're listening to in your own terms. The nonverbal cues you pick up are as important as the words. What do they tell you? How do they enrich the meaning? In short, what is the message -- and what is its significance to you?

Evaluate. Appraise what you hear. Calculate its worth. Is it true? Likely? Probable? Something that should be acted upon, or just stored away for future use? Evaluate the speaker as well. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the presentation?

Validate. When it's your turn to speak, corroborate that you hear what's being said. Do it by simply giving back to the speaker his or her own words -- without the evaluation that is quietly proceeding apace in your mind. "I hear your concern about introducing the new product at this time of year." If your speaker wants you to say more, repeat your concern using different words. Let the speaker keep going. He or she might just come up with a solution.

Respond with rapport. You can end your feedback with a simple affirmation that you get the message. Or you can respond -- again by declaring your willingness to listen. Encourage the speaker to reveal more by showing that you are curious and interested. Ask questions that help you understand this person and his or her emotional needs. It is leaders, after all, who help people solve problems by listening and asking questions.

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