- Understand the differences between men’s and women’s communication styles, and be intentional about your choices.
Men and women can have very distinct differences in how they communicate, especially via email. Understanding these differences and being intentional about how you choose to communicate minimizes misunderstandings while also increasing your effectiveness.
It’s important to note that the communication style generalizations in this piece are not applicable to all men and women.
I recently reconnected with long-time coaching friend David Goldsmith. Goldsmith is an early pioneer in business coaching, which he helped launch in Japan, and he’s a columnist for London’s The Sunday Times.
The genders have trouble understanding one another
Goldsmith shared a challenge that many of his female executive coaching clients are facing — understanding what he calls “E-Male” communications.
It turns out that both men and women have trouble understanding how the other gender communicates, especially via email. To illustrate the differences, here are three emails that I received from CEOs of billion dollar companies. Can you tell which ones were written by a man versus a woman?
- “Thanks for the article. We are just so jammed right now. Our convention and new website.”
- “First cut. Could pull colors and have a pneumonic created (ribbon, ribbon and house) from a key element of the larger logo. Thoughts, feedback?”
- “Thank you so much for your email. Please note I am on email early in the morning and evenings with the balance of my time in the field so I may be delayed in responding. If you need immediate attention, please TEXT me at: 412-273-1992. Thanks so much!”
The first two emails were from men and the third email was from a woman.
Men are like waffles — women are like spaghetti
Bill and Pam Farrel’s book, Men Are Like Waffles–Women Are Like Spaghetti: Understanding and Delighting in Your Differences provides an interesting take on how communication varies by gender.
When the Farrels claim, “Men are like waffles,” what they mean is that men handle single bits of information, one piece of information at a time.
Emails no. 1 and no. 2 illustrate this behavior: short, bulleted pieces of information, often in incomplete sentences.
On the other hand, “Women are like spaghetti” because they will start a thread and then continue following it, stringing multiple threads (spaghetti) together.
Follow the spaghetti
Notice how email no. 3 begins and ends with a “thank you,” there’s a precise explanation of how and when to reach the sender and an alternative source if she is unavailable. The writing is also crisp and concise.
Here’s a recent “spaghetti” email that I sent to a regular guest on my radio show (I hate to admit this).
“Just checking in to see if you have time to do your quarterly update this week for our radio show. I know we’re a week early, but I thought it would be smarter to run this on June 28 rather than doing it on the week of July 4 where most people will be taking a four-day weekend.
“I have good availability today, tomorrow and Thursday. Let me know what works for you. Hope you have recuperated from your hospital stay and are feeling much better!”
Notice the following “spaghetti” features about this email:
- I began the email with the word “just.” Instead, be more direct by eliminating this word from your communications.
- I asked for permission to make an appointment (“If you have time”) rather than going to the bullet and asking for a specific appointment time and date.
- I justified my reason for doing the show a week early. It’s important to note that your “why” seldom makes any difference to the person receiving your communication, especially if this person is a boss or is busy.
- I gave the recipient too many general choices (today, tomorrow and Thursday). This significantly increases the number of emails required to set an appointment. Instead, ask for what you want in the first email. If the recipient can’t comply, he or she will normally suggest an alternative time.
- In my experience, men are less emotional than women in their written communications, seldom using exclamation marks and almost never using an emoji.
Fe-Mail to E-Male
Here is the same email in “waffle” form.
Are you available to do your quarterly update Wednesday, June 28 at 10 a.m. EST or Thursday, June 29 at 2 p.m. EST?
‘Waffles’ are mandatory for skimmers and scanners
Recently, I was setting up times to do panel preparation for an upcoming conference. I received the following email from one of the three women who were going to be on the panel
“Bernice, the July 28 is not doable at all, July 27 works in the late afternoon (3 p.m. or later). July 25 is technically open, but I’m supposed to be on call for budgets so if something comes up, I’d have to bail. So my best bet is July 27 in the afternoon.”
I happily proceeded to schedule our call at 1 p.m. Pacific on July 27 (which matched the two other women’s schedules) because what I remembered was: “So my best bet is July 27 in the afternoon,” even though “3 p.m. or later” was clearly stated in the first line. The multiple dates and times are confusing.
This Fe-Mail would have been much clearer if it had stated:
“The only time I am available this week is on July 27 after 3 p.m. PST.
Pay attention to the type of communication tool you use
One final recommendation from Goldsmith is to choose your communication tool based on how serious or complicated the communication is. Use text messaging to arrange appointments and other minor tasks, but if you’re negotiating or working on a problem, call, or better yet, meet face-to-face.
Tailor your communication to fit the recipient
Clearly, not all men prefer “waffles,” nor do all women prefer “spaghetti.” The best advice is to look at how your clients communicate and respond in the way they communicated with you.
Bernice Ross, CEO of RealEstateCoach.com, is a national speaker, author and trainer with over 1,000 published articles and two best-selling real estate books. Learn about her training programs at www.RealEstateCoach.com/