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American Journal of Business Education - January 2010 


Volume 3, Number 1 


Communication Skills For Women 
In The World Of Corporate Business: 
Getting It Right And Moving Up! 

Priscilla Berry, Jacksonville University, USA 

ABSTRACT 

This article explores, in general, three areas for leadership communication that women in 
business need to master. Indeed, there are more than three, but the focus here is on: the need to 
master the art of successfully confronting the problem when it appears, the process of leading a 
team, the special requirements of communicating with men. An exploration of these three areas 
shows that the vital and often missing link is opportunity for females to practice and feedback from 
male mentors and counterparts. The report also lists the top 10 strategies that women need in order 
to be perceived as successful leaders and communicators. 

Keywords: Search: communication skills for women, women in business, team work, communicating with men, 
confronting workplace problems 


INTRODUCTION 



ommunication Skills for Women are the most talked about skills and yet the most seldom really taught 
skills. And when the skills are taught, the teaching targets the neocrotex part of the brain which involves 
just rote memory, as opposed to the limbic part of the brain which is where emotional intelligence 
develops. This most important of all skills required to get your ideas across, resolve conflicts, shine in meetings, 
persuade and influence others, and rise in the ranks of any corporation is not taught to that part of the brain that needs 
feedback and practice. Women and men sit in endless courses and read countless text on communication, but this is not 
the way communication is learned. The skill of communication is learned with feedback and practice. Men get this 
feedback; women do not. 


For women to benefit from communication training, they must find mentors who provide feedback and seek 
opportunities to practice the skill of leadership communication. Another and equally essential requirement for the 
development of these skills is called out by Malcolm Gladwell in his new book The Outliers when he talks about the 
10,000 hour rule for success. The point is that people who are successful have practiced what they are successful at for 
at least 10,000 hours. This message is to be taken seriously by any woman who aspires to leadership. It is also the 
reason we do not have more women in power positions; they do not have the opportunity to practice, either because 
they are held waiting by the all male power force or because they drop out to have children or run their own business 
and eschew the leadership positions of power. 

No doubt about it...professional women who communicate effectively and confidently go further faster in 
their careers than those who do not. Today, more than ever, top-notch communication skills are an absolute must if a 
woman is to get ahead professionally. Be advised, this message is primarily addressed to women, but much of the 
same applies to men as well. 

This article looks at three areas of leadership communication for women: the need to master the art of 
successfully confronting the problem when it appears, the process of leading a team, the special requirements of 
communicating with men. 


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COMMUNICATION FOR CONFRONTING THE PROBLEM 


Volume 3, Number 1 


Effective women leaders confront problems at first evidence. Ineffective leaders look the other way, hoping 
the problems will be self-correcting. They rarely are. Failing to address issues head-on exacerbates the problem, 
allowing it to fester, creating gossip and low morale throughout an organization. 

Some of the ways to know when and how to confront involve taking everything that involves employees 
seriously. When an employee is concerned, it is important and the leader should address it at the same level of 
importance as the employee is experiencing it.. Bill Clinton will be remembered for many things and one of the 
things most memorable is when he told his audiences: “I feel your pain.” He did this with strong body language and 
his hands touching his chest. He is also the master of eye contact. Females often shoulder surf when someone is 
taking to them. When another person is speaking to you, it is critical that you focus on that person and then respond 
with real empathy and understanding. Never ignore a problem. If it is a problem in the organization or with an 
employee, it is a problem. 

Another important rule is not to exaggerate a problem or over talk the problem. You must have categories 
for the problems and a time strategy that matches the problem. After you acknowledge the problem with the 
organization or employee, set a time when you can respond with knowledge of the situation. This has to be a short 
time because of the level of expectation created by the demands of current communication systems. Our entire 
world is in live time, and women must create a communication style to match the current level of expectation. 

Never shoot from the hip! Many women adopt this style, but it can be damming to any leader. It is one 
thing to be quick to respond, but another to be impulsive. You need to call on the resources which allow you to 
always do your homework. Know yourself here, and if you tend to respond too quickly because you are responding 
to pressure or 

because you want to appear smart and capable, create and hold on to a more studied style of response. This 
behavior is most likely something that is practiced and practiced. Again, this pattern highlights the 10,000 hour rule. 

COMMUNICATION FOR TEAM LEADERSHIP 

As professional women take on the task of leading teams, they will also have to master a pattern for team 
leadership. Women often vacillate in making decisions because they fear hurt feelings or they are fearful of making 
a wrong decision. They do all the work without delegating (because it is easier), and by the time they do have the 
discussion about everyone’s roles, they are so tired and disgusted there is little or no diplomacy in their message. 

To be impressive, professional women must understand their role in delegation. 

You do not have to prove yourself or your value by doing it all by yourself. This is almost the tragic flaw 
for women communicators and leaders. The same goes for decision-making which is the core of team leadership. 
The best team leaders with strong communication skills develop a team consensus to make decisions. This is both an 
art and a science. It is a skill that can be taught and improved with practice. 

When working with teams, it is important for morale and motivation to involve team members. Decision¬ 
making can be discussed from five approaches. The requisite skill is knowing when to apply what approach: 

1) The leader makes the decision; no input from the team. 

2) The leader makes the decision, but asks team members for information on which to base the decision. 

3) The leader makes the decision, but the team members help evaluate the information and provide input. The 

leader then makes the final decision. 

4) The leader has the entire team participate in providing information and help in the evaluation of the 
options. The leader then makes the final decision. 

5) The leader turns the decision over to the team and accepts whatever decision is made. 


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Great leaders know when to apply which strategy in a way that reinforces the team concept, nurtures 
morale, develops people, and gets great results. 

Delegation: One of the most challenging parts of being a team leader is knowing when and how to delegate. 
Professional women often believe they have to prove their value by doing it all themselves; however, their real value 
is in creating greater productivity by engaging others in the process. When working with teams, it is important to get 
everyone involved. All team members should be assigned a role with responsibilities, accountabilities, and 
deadlines. Delegation is not abdication. The responsibility for what is being delegated remains with the person 
doing the delegating. 

Many leaders have trouble delegating because of trust issues, either with the specific person to whom they 
are delegating or in general. Women have trust issues, no doubt. We would rather over work ourselves in the 
extreme than allow the project to fail. In either scenario, an initial discussion must include specificity around 
expectations and accountabilities to deadlines. Additionally, the discussion must also include feedback as to the 
comfort level in accomplishing the delegated assignment and a request to understand the amount of oversight, 
coaching, and feedback required. 

Diplomacy: Conjures up images of a powerful, respectful communicator negotiating important 
international treaties and alliances. This can be true, however, like negotiating the expectations and emotions of 
individuals on teams are the core issue. Diplomacy always comes down to communication. It is a special style of 
communication that influences others in a positive manner, building trust and respect that gets incredible results. 
Today, far too little communication from leaders is specific enough to set clear expectations that can thus be met by 
the team member. Thus, the element of expectation remains different for both the follower and the leader. Women 
specifically tend to talk in euphuism and have difficulty being specific. It often leaves teams without the guidance 
they need to accomplish the task. This is because female leaders tend to see big pictures and end games and do not 
focus on the details that teams require for action. 

Mastering the Communicating Styles necessary for Team Leadership allows professional women business 
leaders to create and lead championship teams that give them the respect and reputation necessary to move up 
through the organization to higher levels of leadership. If professional women focus on effective delegation, they 
will usually save themselves time...be better team leaders...increase the quality of the team's results...and raise the 
overall morale. 

COMMUNICATION WITH MEN 

Communicating with power and finesse is a skill that does not come naturally to most women. I believe you 
know what I mean. For example, when a woman is drowned out at an important meeting by men with louder 
voices...Or you have an excellent idea that gets dismissed and then 10 minutes later, a man suggests the exact same 
thing and everyone is suddenly all for it. Or when you are speaking to someone up the chain of command and he acts 
like you’re invisible. This can be frustrating! 

Several years ago, a survey of women in fortune 500 companies at the VP level or higher...were asked to 
describe the behaviors that led them to their success. The number one answer at 71 %...was “exceeding 
expectations.” The number two answer at 67 %...was “communicating with men in a manner in which men were 
comfortable.” (Beshara, 2006) 

No doubt about it.. .Professionals who communicate effectively and confidently go much further faster in their 
careers than those who do not. Today, more than ever, top-notch communication skills are an absolute if you as a 
woman want to get ahead professionally. 

Know the big picture and succeed: Since the late '60s, as an outgrowth of the racial equality movement, there 
has been increased emphasis on the equality of women. In spite of this, the fact is...women in the workplace are 
affected by their inability to change jobs and "climb” the corporate ladder. 


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Wage Earning-Fact from the Department of Labor Statistics: When women begin their careers out of college 
or graduate school, they earn about as much as men do. From ages 25 to 29, women earn 90 percent of what their male 
counterparts earn. But that all changes when they become mothers... and by the time they are 44 years old, their wages 
are down to 71 percent of what their male counterparts earn. The prime years for having children are also prime years 
for establishing a career. This is such an important fact for any discussion on leadership skills for women. The 
communication skills needed to raise a family and run a home are not the skills needed to climb the corporate ladder 
and assume a leadership role within a corporation. The time women take for child bearing is time they never get back. 
Nor should they ask for it back. It is a choice both women and men must make in terms of family and lifestyle. 

Consider these statistics: Half of the women from the graduating class of Stanford in 1981 left the workforce 
by 1998 and one out of every three MBA-earning women of the same class were not working full-time jobs at that 
time. In comparison, only one out of every 22 male MBAs of the same class was not working full-time in 1998. 43 % 
of women with children quit working sometime during their career, even though 97 percent of these women had 
planned to return to salaried work. (Steen, 2007) 

In one study, women who quit the work force for 1-2 years lost nearly one-third of their earning power in that 
time. The Center of Work Life Policy studied 2,443 women in business in separate groups. 37 % of those studied quit 
work sometime during their career. That figure rose to 43 % if they had children. 25% of these women who left their 
jobs were not able to get rehired. Of the 74 % who were successful in finding new jobs, only 40 percent were hired in a 
full-time professional position. 

Performance Factors: Women do not suffer from the “big male ego" problem. This problem is created by the 
natural competitiveness of the male psyche. Very often, in business as well as in sports, the male ego gets in the way of 
performance. It is the veiled threat that you need "to be careful with me or I'll beat you up!" 

Most often, this “big male ego” syndrome creates an environment where the person's “game” is nowhere near 
as big as his ego. In other words, the male’s performance is often not as good as his ego would lead others to believe. 
This is not to say that women do not have healthy or competitive egos; they do. For the most part, however, women 
seem more capable of bypassing this, "I’m bigger than you...my dad can beat up your dad ... I'll kick your butt," ego 
game that men play and women move on to concentrating on performance. 

Women can be just as competitive as men, but they don't have the same kind of male ego challenge. They do 
not automatically bruise other people's egos when they are out performed. 

Since the business environment is still a "man’s" world, women have to work harder to attain the same levels 
of recognition. When women, like most minorities, want to reach equality, they have to work harder and perform better 
than the average employee. So, when over achievement is expected, average achievement is perceived as 
underachievement. It is not uncommon, therefore, for a female professional to be either recognized as a stellar 
performer or criticized as a poor performer. She is rarely perceived as average. As an over performer, she has to really 
outperform most of her male counterparts. Average performance or less will be perceived as underperformance, and 
over performance, which is required, ironically may cause the males to be over challenged. This is when special 
communication skill is required to remain self-promotional and yet not intimidating. 

The major disadvantages that women face in getting hired and promoted all stem from the "mommy track" 
possibility. Hiring a female of childbearing age poses risks to an employer. These will never be voiced, but the 
challenge is always present, even in the most forward and progressive companies. Many women, as stated, claim they 
will return to work after childbirth, but do not. This is a major resource challenge for any employer. 

The challenges of being a practicing business professional and a mother. ..until children are grown, present a 
real and tangible barrier to careers for women. Rearing children is the hardest calling in the world. It makes most 
business endeavors look simple. Motherhood is more than an "occupation." A mother’s concern for her child or 
children will almost always supersede her concern for her career. This poses a real challenge for hiring organizations. 
On one hand, hiring authorities want a professional who has their priorities in order. On the other, when those personal 
priorities run the risk of being an expense to the company, the companies have a real dilemma. 


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One piece of advice, keep your family matters at home. If you have children, do not put pictures on the 
shelves of your office. For men, this is strength and says they are good providers and faithful to their charge. For 
women, it says I need to leave early to pick up the children. I do not like this difference, but it is real. When you talk 
about families always speak positively and talk about success. Any problem you mention makes you look too 
responsible to the family and less accessible to the corporation. 

PREPARING FOR A CAREER AS A LEADER 

Although there have been many advances since the 1960s, there are still many to overcome. As a woman, you 
are not alone. Today with widespread knowledge and increased awareness, there are more organizations, resources, 
role models, and services to help professional women who are on-ramping in career movement and coaching which 
helps us to work smarter and more effectively than ever before. 

Consider your personal preferences in how you acquire information. With the myriad of advice and 
information available on every type of media and support groups and services available in nearly every community, 
and even online, there is sure to be some option that would be a fit for you. 

How does a professional woman acquire happiness and accept at the same time leadership. It comes from the 
inside out! Look happy.. .smile a lot.. .think about being very much alive! 

Many people believe that outside objects or events will make them happy; however, happiness comes from 
within. The same concept holds true for leadership. Take as many courses as you would like...take as much training 
and coaching as you can digest, but if leadership does not come from within...your followers will know it. Why? 
People will follow you as a leader.. .because they will believe you stand by what you believe. And they will be loyal to 
you.. .because they admire you and want to follow you. 

Lessons to Remember: 

SMILE; Whether you are talking with a friend, family member, your children, your boss, your employees or someone 
on the phone, remember to keep a smile on your face. 

KNOW THYSELF; If you see yourself putting too much energy on outside ‘'‘sources” that “will make you happy...or 
not,” whether it is a new house, outfit, car, jewelry, face or body, think again. If you are not feeling well, these external 
gifts will not make you happier. Focus on finding that “inside happiness first” and then reward yourself. 

KEEP A POSITIVE OUTLOOK ABOUT THE FUTURE; You may be experiencing hard times, but you can avoid 
perpetuating them. Bring about positive thoughts of how you will overcome the obstacles and keep an eye on the 
future. 

SHARE YOUR JOY WITH OTHERS: Being in a great mood is infectious and is key to a happy household, workplace 
and organization. Children are ready to adapt to their parents’ moods just as employees are ready to adapt to their 
bosses’ moods. Therefore, as the home queen, entrepreneur, or corporate warrior, your great disposition will bring out 
the best in others as they tune-in and match your own vibration. 

TAKE GREAT CARE OF YOURSELF: Your integrated health and wellness in the physical, emotional, intellectual, 
spiritual and social dimensions are key to experience the ultimate power of well-being and thus successful leadership. 

CONCLUSION 

A lack of knowledge, awareness, and training to develop your communications skills can damage your career! 
Most people would agree with that statement and it is basic advice to polish the skills that will ensure your success. 

Many women have heard the complaint from our colleagues or personally expressed this sentiment, "I 
trained hard for my job, but all I seem to do is try to fix people problems." These kinds of people skills are what we 
mean by communication skills. Often, they are the very skills we didn't learn! The subtle things no one tells us. 
Since we our born with a distinct and different personality and develop a communication pattern based on our 
family culture, we often believe because we are successful in our original unit that we have the skills for our life 


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work. Like walking, it just happens. However, like power walking differs from strolling around the mall, business 
communication is not at all like chatting with a friend over coffee. 

Women are especially vulnerable to presenting a distorted image of who they really are through their 
communication style. The very attributes that enable a woman to work well with others, build relationships, seek 
consensus, empathize, and persuade may work in a negative manner as a woman climbs the corporate ladder. Many 
senior managers are still very much controlled by the old, white-male establishment. This establishment expects 
everyone to think and communicate like they think and communicate; they become uncomfortable when the 
communicator is female, just because they are female. This is unfortunate, unfair and unacceptable but must be 
recognized as the beginning for the playing field. 

Finding ways to communicate effectively, while maintaining your unique strengths as a woman in business 
is a skill you must learn and develop. As with all skills, it takes time and practice. But the first step, as always when 
we face a new challenge, is to recognize our need, assess our strengths and begin working on the areas where we 
need to grow the most first. 

Despite the shift into the 21st century, we probably will continue to be hampered by the past for some time 
to come. Women have made great advances in the workplace, but many areas remain to be conquered. Girls are still 
taught differently from boys. Passive, manipulative, deferential and nurturing styles of behavior are considered 
appropriate for girls; aggressive, competitive, boastful and demanding styles are permitted for boys. Girls tend to 
play in small groups, suggesting activities and taking turns. Boys play in larger groups, impose rules and follow 
leaders' orders. They compete, valuing winning and wanting to be best. 

Men are still viewed as doing valuable, paid work. Women are still seen as caregivers whose work is not 
paid for and therefore not valuable. These attitudes will not vanish overnight although they are gradually softening 
and will eventually change. You might feel angry and frustrated about it, but the fact remains and must be faced. 

The task for women in business today is to recognize their self-worth, value their skills and do not give 
away their gifts and build on the skills they have and access the training for the skills they do not have. 
Undervaluing the strengths women possess and trying to become something other than what we are (i.e. women and 
not a man in women’s clothes) will not make us more accepted. A quick look at the outlined differences in the early 
imprinting for boys and girls in the last few paragraphs shows that many of the things that little girls do as they play 
closely reflect the consensual style of today's business environment, especially in middle management. This may 
explain why there are more female than male middle managers in American companies today. 

Top 10 Strategies for Women for Successful Communication Leadership: 

• Dress conservatively and have a clothing consultant (not your partner) 

• Wear Suits and keep your jacket on (master the clothes, hair, shoes) 

• Expect to be treated equally in the office and then walk down the street to the local watering hole but do not 
expect the male to pick up the tab (use this rule in all scenarios) 

• Do not gossip, pay attention to the grapevine 

• Find a mentor, a male who respects women 

• Be on Time, always; do your homework 

• Learn to Kibitz and talk about something other than business, i.e. sports, weather, local politics (never 
children, spouse, mother, father) No pictures of children in office 

• Use your sex to advance your strengths and not to threaten or intimidate a male colleague 

• Portray a healthy life style in dress, conversation, deportment 

• Have a mantra that you repeat every day that gives clarity to your mission 

These are subjects for our ongoing research and writing. Please e-mail any observation and responses: 
pberrvl@iu.edu or visit the website @ http://users.iu.edu/pberrvl 


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REFERENCES 


Volume 3, Number 1 


1. Beshara, T. (2006). The Job Search Solution, American Management Association. Beshara & Associates, 
Dallas, Fort Worth, TX. 

2. Brown, S. (2008). Powerful Communication Skills for Women. Senior Workshop Leader, National 
Seminars Group, Rockhurst University, Continuing Education Center, Kansas City, MO. 

3. Cora, G. (2005). Leading Under Pressure: Maximize Your Health While Building Your Wealth. President 
and Founder of The Executive Health & Wealth Institute, Chicago, ILL. 

4. Firestone, M. ( 2007).“Traits of Top Women Entrepreneurs” President and Chief Advisor of The Women’s 
Presidents’ Organization. 

5. Gladwell, M. (2008). Outliers: The Story of Success. New York: Little Brown and Co. 

6. Steen, M. (February, 2007). Stop Out, Hunker Down, Move Up?: Challenges faced by women MBAs and 
their employers, Stanford Business Magazine. 

7. Weisman, S. ( 2008). How Professional Women can Create Championship Teams. President of Weisman 
Success Resources, Poughkeepsie, New York. 


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