If you asked my father about the difference between women and men, he would have said men were better drivers (something he commented on frequently while driving, my mother, sister and I surrounding him in the car, talking over each other to argue him down). He certainly did like to provoke us.
In the 1980’s we did a survey and found men thought women talk too much and women complained men didn’t listen. Now, there’s a recipe for frustration!
Two weeks ago I worked with a group of all women. Last week I worked with a group of all men. These two groups made me take a fresh look.
The women were interested in talking about communication at work. The men were interested in talking about communication at home with their spouses and children. Isn’t that interesting?
The women needed more coaching on how to get their communication across, how to be fully understood, the art of delivering a compelling message. They needed a boost in confidence, were concerned about their credibility and being heard. One woman, for example, practiced telling her co-workers they need to improve the quality of their work (difficult for her to do initially without shrinking into herself).
The men needed more coaching on how to listen, how to really give their full attention (and I mean truly undivided attention) and be strongly interested all the way through to the end. The guys initially had trouble making it even to the 30 second mark before “checking out”.
What was interesting to me was that you could say they did fit stereotypes …. but only at the beginning of the training. Not at the end. By the end of the training they were all excellent communicators, each with their own unique style and charisma, no two alike, extremely distinct personalities. You would look at them and think, “You are truly you; you are truly one of a kind.”
I had a stunning realization. People fit stereotypes when they are missing communication skills. An engineer who doesn’t know how to start and carry a conversation gets labeled an “introvert”. A sales guy who pushes his message without listening is called a “typical sales guy”. Stereotype labels abound: emotional, aggressive, geek, insensitive, millennial, etc, etc, etc. Anytime someone uses the word “typical” a stereotype follows.
But, this is what I see over and over again. Once they have the full range of communication skills, no one ever again fits a stereotype. Stereotypes put attention on what is lacking, what is missing in communication. When this is remedied, the power of a person’s communication defies stereotypes.
You can see this with historical figures who were extraordinary communicators. Mahatma Gandhi was a typical what? Margaret Thatcher fits which stereotype? Winston Churchill was just like whom? Nelson Mandela is a classic what?
Even today: Arianna Huffington is just like which other person you know? Oprah reminds you of what group of people who are just like her? Bill Clinton is in what category? Sheryl Sandberg reminds you of whom? There is no one like any of them.
Why does extraordinary communication seem so rare? Because few people master all of it. Communication doesn’t require one or two skills – it requires the mastery of at least 20 separate skills (I’m being very conservative here) and the ability to weave them all together effortlessly during conversations or presentations, usually while thinking on your feet.
That’s where training in communication skills comes into play. Good instruction helps you take your skills from where they are today to exceptional, so that when you communicate, you are truly you, and there is no mistaking that.
We tend to stereotype or label when we can’t communicate to someone. Communication is the only thing that opens the door to true understanding.
Next time you find a label or stereotype filling your thoughts about someone, take a look and see how you can take your communication with that person to the next level to reach the full understanding that will satisfy you.