TALKING is the strongest negotiation tool you have and yet it can lead to an incredible amount of misunderstanding.

You may get frustrated at why communication can be so difficult, especially when the parties involved speak a common language.

But that's the problem right there - they don't.

The words are the same, but how they are perceived and received can vary from individual to individual.

The way people communicate is a learned social behaviour. And just as everyone has a different personality, there are different nuances in your linguistic style - the way you send and receive messages.

Your characteristic speaking pattern can differ in how direct or indirect you are, your pacing, pauses, word choice and the way you use jokes, anecdotes, questions and apologies.

In one city, people may be used to leaving longer pauses in their conversation to allow people to join in, while in another, even a brief pause can be unacceptable and has to be filled.

This can result in misconceptions. One person will come across as shy or uninterested because he is not contributing to the conversation, while the other feels his conversation partner is garrulous and monopolising the discussion.

In reality, they do not understand each other's linguistic style or how to make adjustments for it.

Men versus women

However, the main differences come in the form of the different linguistic styles between the sexes.

Women tend to focus more on rapport when they communicate while men are concerned with status.

Women socialise in small groups, talk more and focus on equality, while men socialise in larger groups with unequal standing. They communicate to display position and knowledge.

Women play down their individual strengths to be accepted while men minimise their weaknesses.

These linguistic characteristics follow them into the workplace and influence how they communicate and perceive communication with their colleagues.

Take a look at how specific methods of communication are used and interpreted differently between the sexes, and it may become clearer why certain relationships play out for you the way they do.


How you ask questions depends on the situation. If you are the only person asking questions, you may appear ignorant.

Men view this as losing face, hence the reason why they are less likely to ask for directions.

Women view questions as a sign of interest while men tend to form negative opinions of people who ask questions in situations where they would not.


Men tend to take "I'm sorry" literally while women most often use the phrase to express sympathy. Men are less likely to apologise and will ignore or side-step the issue.


When people invite comments by asking such questions as, "How do you think I did?", they could be in for criticism instead of the expected compliment.

Men recognise this coming from a status standpoint and will be less likely to put themselves in such a vulnerable position.

Women, after giving a compliment, will expect one in return, coming from the position of rapport-building.


Women tend to be more indirect when giving orders while men are direct about admitting their faults.


The ways of giving and interpreting feedback are polar opposites between the two sexes.

Women tend to soften the impact of negative feedback by complimenting good behaviour first.

Men see the first points raised as the most important and will view the negative criticism as an afterthought, placing less importance on it as it was not mentioned first.

Getting credit

Men are more comfortable blowing their own trumpets, going back again to their play behaviour as boys and the need to establish status.

Women, who tend to downplay their strengths, may be perceived by men as having a lack of confidence if they do not want to take credit for their actions.

Understanding how your colleagues communicate and what they are really saying will make it possible for you to better read interactions and to adjust your own style to bring about the desired outcome.

This is a communication skill that can be learnt and practised to enhance internal and external corporate communications.