In this series, we discuss The Seven Barriers of Communication. This post is dedicated to gender barriers. Stay tuned as we discuss each.
Gender barriers have become less of an issue in recent years. However, there are still common communication issues that arise between people of different genders when they misconstrue the words of one another.
Growing equality in the workplace between certain genders — like men and women — has helped in many aspects. Yet, it hasn’t necessarily eliminated the communication barriers.
As with all types of people from diverse backgrounds, men and women are socialized differently. We experience societal pressures and stereotypes of various kinds, and these factors inevitably affect our communication styles. When left unaddressed, gender barriers can lead to problems in the workplace.
The details of where these differences arise shouldn’t prevent anyone of any gender from communicating effectively with someone of a different gender. Fortunately, patience, understanding, and empathy are all that are required.
Common causes of miscommunication between genders
Gender barriers in the workplace stem from many sources, including societal norms and cultural values. While it’s impossible to completely eliminate conflict, we can avoid patterns of behavior that cause problems. Learn to recognize these common sources of miscommunication to improve how you interact and collaborate with others.
It’s important to remember that stereotypes are just that — oversimplified ideas of how a particular type of person or thing ought to be. Not all men, women, or otherwise will communicate the same way as the rest of their gender.
While several traits tend to be more common in one gender than another, it’s beneficial to allow people to define their communication styles. Don’t expect your peers to conform to any one style common to their gender. This understanding is key to creating a work environment that fosters open communication and acceptance amongst all employees.
Cultural values about gender differ around the world. As a result, our backgrounds play a prominent role in our expectations of other workers. In a highly diverse workplace, there’s often a multitude of cultures represented among the workforce. Friction can occur because we have different ideas about socially acceptable behavior between genders. Being overly casual in conversation, for example, is acceptable in some cultures and not in others.
Respecting the comfort levels of our peers is a crucial part of getting along. As you learn more about others, you can get a feel for their boundaries. But until then, avoid making assumptions about someone else’s beliefs or lifestyle. Try to stick to topics of discussion that are relevant to the job.
Five generations now co-exist in the workforce, all of whom have grown up with different societal norms. When people of various age groups work together, generational differences may affect how they communicate with people of other genders.
In this situation, people can feel alienated when roles or models of leadership in the workplace don’t fit their expectations. Although it’s challenging to balance these viewpoints, ensuring everyone feels respected and heard is equally important.
Examples of gender barriers
Chances are, you’ve probably met plenty of people who do and don’t fit into your idea of how their gender typically acts, speaks, or looks. The world is made up of unique individuals. Respecting each person’s individuality is crucial in establishing a safe work environment.
You may have made assumptions about whether a particular gender:
– Tends to talk about people vs. tangible things
– Tends to ask questions vs. sharing information
– Tends to discuss issues with other people when they arise vs. dealing with them on their own
– Tends to focus on their feeling and the meaning behind people’s gestures or words vs. focusing on facts and taking things at face value
– Tends to hold onto conflicts after they’re over vs. moving on quickly
Note: These are oversimplified examples. Most people have a mix of tendencies, and no one person fits into any given stereotype to a T.
Overcoming gender barriers to communication
If you suspect gender barriers are affecting your workplace communication, here are some helpful hints:
1. Educate your team about gender and gender bias.
People often struggle to identify their own biases and areas of ignorance. But when people become aware of them, it creates the possibility for positive change. When given information that shows how they’ve treated another person unfairly, most people will want to do what they can to correct their behavior.
2. Encourage diversity.
Suppose you’re sitting in a conference room discussing how a new policy or process will affect your entire company. If only men are present, you could miss out on ramifications that unfairly affect other genders. Include people of different genders, races, and backgrounds so that you can make decisions in light of how they affect everyone at your company and not just one group or gender.
3. Ask others how they want to be addressed.
Encourage individuals to let everyone know how they want others to refer to them. Many communication breakdowns arise when someone repeatedly addresses another person in ways that make them uncomfortable. Ensure everyone knows they shouldn’t use labels or pet names others consider inappropriate.
4. Equip your HR team.
If an issue arises, ensure you have an HR representative who is informed and equipped to deal with these matters in a respectful, tactful, and fair manner.
5. Create gender-neutral policies.
Whenever possible, avoid creating policies that single out a specific gender. Define the cultural values you want your team to uphold, and develop codes of conduct you can apply equally across the gender spectrum. For example, outline the correct ways to communicate a problem and who employees should speak to when they have concerns.
Organizations are full of people from various walks of life. The more we learn about each other and allow people to act as unique individuals, the happier and more invested employees will feel at work.
Good communication requires a team effort. Whether you work in person or remotely, provide opportunities for co-workers to connect, share experiences, and collaborate. Create an open-minded and respectful environment, so team members are more likely to support one another. And above all, stress the importance of valuing people based on the mentality, work ethic, and skills they bring to the table.
“This post was originally published on February 3, 2017, and updated most recently on February 6, 2022.