Communication styles: Understanding gender differences


Communication Styles: Understanding Gender DifferencesMen Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus – you might not know the book, but if you’ve ever communicated with someone of the opposite sex, you instinctively get what the title means. Understanding typical gender differences in conversation will help you communicate more effectively – even if speaking with someone from another planet!

Our ideas about gender differences in communication styles are constantly evolving and are shaped by circumstance. For example, my brother grew up with three sisters and was, therefore, influenced by a culture of females. On the other hand, my husband grew up with brothers and sisters and lived in a diverse neighbourhood. His communication style was so flexible, he was a chameleon when it came to adjusting to different social environments. While men are more concerned with problem-solving and establishing hierarchy, women are more tuned into regulating closeness and distance, and maintaining social cohesion; however, we are all under the influence of social behaviour, the intricacies of a multi-cultural society and other social factors including economic realities. With all this at play, a simple conversation may not be so simple after all.

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place – George Bernard Shaw

If you can recognize typical communication styles and understand the underlying factors associated with the behaviour, you’ll find it far easier to navigate conversations with your family, partner and at work.

A balanced approach to constructive communication

Recognize gender differences in communication styles:

  • Understand the motivation  behind the behaviour
  • Recognize your own communication style and bias
  • Be respectful and open to the other person’s communication style and values
  • Work on compromise to bring out the strengths of the communication style

As a counsellor in a female-dominated profession, I must rise above my gender bias to communicate effectively with men and boys in order to help them. As an employee with a female boss, and both male and female colleagues, I need to understand their unique communication styles and adapt myself accordingly. I still need to be myself but being flexible allows me to get to the heart of the matter more easily. And you don’t have to be a counsellor to benefit from that! Have a look at the charts below – I think you’ll recognize these gender styles.

Male communication styles

Behaviour Possible Motivation
Challenges and points out another perspective (‘the devil’s advocate’) A desire to gather more information or expand their understanding of the issue.
Uses direct, brief & commanding language to communicate decisions. A desire to communicate efficiently, reinforce functional hierarchy, and demonstrate responsibility through decisiveness.
Sitting on an angle and avoiding eye contact. Trying not to look aggressive or challenging as opposed to being disinterested.
Moving into another’s space, talking more and with authority, interrupting, using wit to command an audience. Possibly trying to impress, establish respect and leadership.
Solution talk, action planning and impatience with venting. A desire to see tangible outcomes and success in achieving goals.


Female communication styles

Behaviour Possible Motivation
Sharing personal detail and feelings of vulnerability, complimenting others. A desire to build relationships, trust and cohesion.
Pausing and encouraging others to take turns speaking. A desire to build respect and balance by structuring the communication.
Apologizing or seeking help. Possibly trying to demonstrate strength and trust depending on context.
Sharing thoughts and feelings about the subject. Trying to build mutual understanding and mutual support.
Asking questions, not using commanding language when in authority. Using rhetorical questions to lead and influence. A desire to create an atmosphere of respect and team work, de-emphasize hierarchical relationships and build on intrinsic motivation and team work.

Once you recognize these gender differences in communication styles, your communication skills will improve. To find out more information about improving communication, contact one of our counsellors at 1 866 833-7690 or visit

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