The question of how men and women should communicate effectively in ways that enhance perceptions of authoritative and respectable leadership is a critical one. More often than women are especially criticized for the mode of delivery rather than the message itself. In politics, for example, women leaders such as Hilary Clinton are often the subject of punditry to the effect that their delivery is lacking in charisma and that their demeanor is unlikable. Some women try to compensate by enhancing their feminine side but even then, the critics dismiss them as “girlish”. Grant & Taylor (2014) posit that there is a need for women in positions of leadership to change the way they articulate issues to improve on leadership presence and continue to shatter the glass ceiling. In their research, Grant & Taylor identify six essentials that are a prerequisite for female executives to project confidence while communicating.
Women making their achievement known is an important factor in career advancement. Studies however show that women have a reluctance to claim the achievement. There is great speculation as to the source of this reluctance by women to toot their own horn. Some suggest that women have faith in meritocracy and competence and that rewards brilliant results. Could there be an anthropological explanation that goes back to the time women hard to assume an air of subservience and parity to survive? For most female executives, their reluctance to communicate accomplishments is rooted in genuine humility. While humility is no doubt a virtue, they have to strike some kind of balance.
Introductory remarks typically account for only 15% of the time speakers will take speaking, yet how you start your presentation will determine how much interest the audience will have to say. A good introduction emphasizes a clear, focused purpose of the speech and plants a simple idea I the minds of the audience that they can take away from your presentation even if they tune you out midway. Another important aspect of starting strong is establishing credibility. This goes back to Aristotle’s concept of ethos. Credibility, according to research by McCroskey & Teven (1999) comprises competence, goodwill, and trustworthiness. Competence demands that the speaker comes off as an expert and knowledgeable in the subject matter. Grant & Taylor aver that female executives have to develop mechanisms for starting strong in communication. They propose mentally structuring of responses like a bulleted list as a way of improving spontaneity and avoiding hesitations that are characterized by fillers-words such as ‘er,’ ‘ah’, and ‘um.’
To communicate effectively female executives must learn to must learn the art of saying a lot while speaking very little. A couple of examples to consider in as far as being succinct is concerned include Martin Luther King Jr’s iconic seventeen minutes “I have a dream” speech or the few lines that make up Hamlet or Macbeth – Shakespeare’s famous soliloquies. The idea behind brevity is to accommodate the reality that people have low attention spans as well as the fact that they are inundated by a barrage of information all day long.
Grant & Taylor extol the virtues of clear and succinct communication at the workplace by female executives. To achieve this, they advise executives to practice quick-thinking skills and develop a hierarchy of information that refers to their main point when speaking.
Grant & Taylor urge female executives to distinguish themselves from other public speakers by adding complexity. They urge female executives to go beyond explaining how things are done to quantifying the impact of their contributions and painting broader, vivid pictures of what their visions are. In this way, executives will be able to improve how their competencies and leadership qualities are perceived.
Female executives run the risk of being dismissed as either too shrill or too feminine. Effective vocalization goes beyond manipulating pitch to sound a certain way. Such manipulation is easily detectable by audiences making the speaker come off as insincere.
Voice is also more than the quality of sound. According to Grant & Taylor, female executives need to use their voices to communicate their achievements. This reticence to communicate accomplishments is due to fears by female executives of being dismissed as boastful, aggressive, selfish, and unlikeable, Eagly, and Carli (2018). The solution, hard as it may be, is not imitating masculine behavior. As a workaround, Grant & Taylor propose that female executives pay attention to details such as the kind of pronouns they use. Research has found that women have a predisposition to use ‘we’ in situations where men use ‘I’, Tannen (1994), which has the undesirable effect of camouflaging the accomplishments of female executives.
Also, Grant & Taylor advises female executives to focus on impact emphasizing number and the quantifiable results of their contributions. They also propose that they employ a hybrid of an impersonal voice and an active voice as a solution to feeling like they are being braggadocios in crediting themselves, Babcock and Laschever’s (2003). In this way, they can benefit from considering details such as using first-person singular pronouns to demonstrate their identity, (Pennebaker, Mehl, & Niederhoffer, 2003).
Body language is also an important consideration in public speaking that female executives have to consider. Speakers should employ the use of gestures to be effective in their presentations. Hands placed on your side for instance portray a neutral position that keeps the audience open and receptive to your communication. Studies the people in high management positions use more gestures (Hall & Friedman, 1999). Effective female executives also know how to use space and project authority by the way they stand or move. They assure listeners that they are comfortable in the spotlight and confident in their abilities. In addition to posture, the audience also relies on the speaker’s facial expressions to perceive the nuances of meaning. Grant & Taylor classify gestures as either ideational’ or ‘energy’ and advise executives to focus on relating gestures to the message they want to convey. They go on to discourage many energy gestures that have the effect of distracting the audience from the intended message. They also prescribe ‘ideational’ gestures that kink to the content of their message while enhancing the audience’s perception of their self-control and skills.
Jessi L. Smith, a psychologist at Montana State University found that women’s reticence to talk about their accomplishments is due to years of the cultural conditioning of women to be modest. This finding makes it extremely important for female leaders to talk about their accomplishments as a way of spurring a cultural paradigm shift, (Handley et al., 2015). According to research by Olivia O’Neill of George Mason University and Charles O’Reilly of Stanford University, assertive, tough, and self-confident women are thought of as “masculine” resulting in a significant backlash at their place of work, (O’Neill & O’Reilly III, 2011). The irony is that women who are considered less assertive, less tough are not considered for promotions either. Grant & Taylor and tailor outline certain qualities for both female and male executives to develop to project confidence.
Differences in values, preferences, and communication styles coupled with a few women in senior leadership positions are still an impediment to effective communication among women executives. Of course, there are neurobiological differences between men and women at the workplace, but how can professional women manage to communicate powerfully and authoritatively? The answer could lie in taking a cue from their male counterparts in certain aspects such as negotiating term of employment. Studies show that 57% men negotiate salary, benefits and positions while only 7% of women do the same, (Babcock et al., 2003). As part of corporate social responsibility, it is incumbent upon employers to provide an environment that facilitates free communication for both genders. Also, employers can make deliberate attempts at alleviating any concerns of punitive repercussions (real or imagined) that women may have. Most importantly female executive have to learn how to speak out for themselves and demand compensation that is commensurate to their efforts.
While Grant & Taylor endeavor to outline the approach female executives should to take for effective communication, they fail to outline the nuances and barriers to communication such as differences in style that can only be accounted for by biological differences between men and women. Women, for instance, are process-oriented and prefer gathering complete information before making decisions. Contrastingly, their male counterparts in leadership take a more internal approach to making decisions. In addition, the leadership style of women may be mostly relationship-oriented where their male colleagues take a more task-centered approach. This two approaches can exacerbate conflicts in the workplace instead of offering resolutions.
The perquisites for female executives to develop leadership presence and inspire perceptions of competence can be summarized as being centered. To achieve effective communication, female executives must pay attention to their voice, body language, and words. An analysis by Grant and Taylor prescribes six communication essentials including, Start strong, Stay succinct, Dimensionalizing Content, Own voice, and Control movement. In this regard, executives should pay attention to their posture when communicating. Moreover, employing an even tone when speaking keeps the speaker relaxed. They should strike a balance in their use of gestures in ways that keep their audiences engaged. Besides that, executives have to structure their ideas in ways that ensure clarity of delivery. Finally, executives should pace their presentations in such a way that the audience can follow without feeling left behind or condescended upon.
Babcock, L., & Laschever, S. (2003). Women don’t ask: Negotiation and the gender divide. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Babcock, L., Laschever, S., Gelfand, M., & Small, D. (2003, October 1). Nice girls don’t ask. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2003/10/nice-girls-dont-ask
Eagly, A. H., & Carli, L. L. (2018). Women and the labyrinth of leadership. Contemporary Issues in Leadership, 147-162. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780429494000-17
Grant, A. D., & Taylor, A. (2014). Communication essentials for female executives to develop leadership presence: Getting beyond the barriers of understating accomplishment. Business Horizons, 57(1), 73-83. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bushor.2013.09.003
Handley, I. M., Brown, E. R., Moss-Racusin, C. A., & Smith, J. L. (2015). Quality of evidence revealing subtle gender biases in science is in the eye of the beholder. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112(43), 13201-13206. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1510649112
Hall, J. A., & Friedman, G. B. (1999). Status, gender, and nonverbal behavior: A study of structured interactions between employees of a company. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 25(9), 1082-1091. https://doi.org/10.1177/01461672992512002.
McCroskey, J. C., & Teven, J. J. (1999). Goodwill: A reexamination of the construct and its measurement. Communication Monographs, 66(1), 90-103. https://doi.org/10.1080/03637759909376464
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