The Power Of Talk: Closing The Diversity Gap

Imagine these situations: A manager is invited to stop attending a steering committee because the CEO wants to reduce its size and keep only the “most committed members.” The leader of a $50 million division is passed over for promotion to the C-suite after failing to fully participate in strategic discussions in which “you have to shout to be heard.” A marketing executive is surprised when a colleague drops by after a meeting with this advice: “Stop acting like a facilitator. Start saying what you stand for.”

The people described above have several things in common: They are all successful and ambitious. They are all admired by colleagues and superiors. Yet they have all failed to assert themselves in high-level meetings. And they are all women. How could it be that all the talented women in the division suffered from a lack of self-confidence?

Probably, they didn’t. Judgments about confidence can be inferred only from the way people present themselves, and much of that behavior is in the form of talk. Communication isn’t as simple as just saying what you mean.

Did you know that 75% of talking during the average business meeting is done by men? Preliminary results of a research conducted by Partners in Leadership confirm this finding: women still struggle more than men to find their voice in the room.

So how can women assert themselves, overcoming this fear and projecting confidence in the workplace? How you say what you mean is crucial, and it differs from one person to the next. Language is learned social behavior: how we talk and listen are deeply influenced by cultural experience, and ‘linguistic style’.

Linguistic style refers to a person’s characteristic speaking pattern. It includes such features as directness or indirectness, pacing and pausing, word choice, and the use of such elements as jokes, figures of speech, stories, questions, and apologies. In other words, linguistic style is a set of culturally learned signals by which we not only communicate what we mean but also interpret others’ meanings and evaluate one another as people.

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