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Gender Differences in the Business World

By: Julie-Ann Amos - Updated: 17 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss
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Most people know that gender differences exist in body language and non verbal behaviours. What is less well known however, is how those gender differences influence communication in the business world. This is a crucial concept to understand because it can have a profound impact on workplace dynamics.

Sending and Receiving Messages
Men and women tend to have distinct variations in the sending and receiving of messages via body language. Some of these differences include:

Women and Sending/Receiving – Women typically are more skilled than men at both sending and receiving non verbal messages. They tend to use body language both consciously and unconsciously to establish rapport, make judgments about truthfulness and deceit, and influence others in both overt and very subtle ways. They also tend to be better at spotting contradictions between verbal and non verbal messages.

Men and Sending/Receiving – Men typically are less skilled than women at both sending and receiving non verbal messages. This does not mean, however, that body language is something men do not use or understand. On the contrary, men use non verbal behaviours regularly to communicate things like status, dominance, protection, and aggression. They tend to be better at sending and receiving non verbal messages when interacting with other men.

Much has been written about men and women using body language in social and romantic situations, but there is increasing attention being focused on interactions in the business world. The information emerging from this focus is quite fascinating and can be very useful when navigating through gender communication differences in the workplace.

Different Perceptions of Similar Messages
Men and women often have very different perceptions of the meaning and intent of messages that appear to be very similar. Why? Because of the variation in how a particular message is sent and/or received based on gender.

Let’s look at a simple example of a common business situation where this might occur – a man and a woman attend a training session where the presenter comes from outside the company. During the session, the presenter is quite short and abrupt when answering questions. He doesn’t seem to care about the people in the audience and acts as if he can’t wait to finish the training session.

At the end of the session, the man and woman meet up in the hallway and start to talk about the training. The man indicates he thought the presenter was very direct when answering questions and obviously worried about finishing the session as quickly as possible so he would not miss his return flight home.

The woman, on the other hand, has a slightly different take on the presenter. She indicates she thought the presenter was bordering on rude by answering questions in an irritating tone of voice, but she gives him the benefit of the doubt and attributes his abruptness to the fact that he was not feeling very well. He did the best he could under the circumstances, she thinks, and hopes he will do a better job the next time he comes to present training material.

Why is there so much difference between these two interpretations? The man and woman each sat through the same training session and received the same non verbal messages from the presenter, so why do they each have a very different perspective on the session?

The answer probably lies partially in how each received and interpreted the presenter’s body language. The man noticed the presenter didn’t give lengthy answers to questions and interpreted this as being direct. The woman noticed the presenter cleared his throat a lot and appeared to be wincing when he spoke. Her interpretation is that the presenter was not feeling well and probably had a sore throat, so he gave shorter answers to questions. And what about the presenter’s apparent rush to finish the session? The man interpreted this as anxiety about catching an airplane, but the woman interpreted this as just wanting to finish up and get home to nurse his illness.

Who is Right and Who is Wrong?
So which person is right about the non verbal cues received from the presenter? In fact, both the man and woman may be right in their interpretation. The difference lies in which non verbal cues they noticed the most and the meaning they attached to those cues.

This is an important lesson to remember when interacting with different genders in the business world. While men and women may interpret body language in different ways, they each have a valid perspective that is not necessarily better or worse than the other’s perspective.

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