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By Pam HurleyWe could fill many libraries with thousands of books that explore the different contributions that men and women bring to the workplace. The booking site is now open to choose your session: guarantee your place at the more popular workshops now! We are all used to reports from Gartner and Altimeter that look at social intranets from a US perspective. Better knowledge management is one of the top reasons why organisations are putting in a social intranet. Some of us remember the Andersen and Enron fiascos, certainly the banking crisis and more recently Thomas Cook, Alton Towers and of course VW.
They advise the world’s largest companies on strategy but how do McKinsey use internal communications to support and engage their own consultants? Findings from a new report by People Lab reveals how organisations are approaching employee engagement. In the workplace, it’s no different, but confusion and misunderstanding can be avoided if you examine the gender differences and what makes each sex tick.
Their focus is usually the diversity agenda and they rehearse the evidence that gender diversity improves business performance.This article has no such agenda. With over 2,000 separate articles of advice, toolkits and templates we cover every aspect of internal communication inside organisations. Rather, it seeks to explain why workplace communication between men and women can be fraught with misunderstandings – and suggest how these might be avoided.Mine’s better than yoursObserve a couple of male friends meeting up, maybe for a beer, and the bonding ritual they embark on.
And each week we publish fresh case studies and advice about SMiLE - Social Media inside Large Enterprise.
According to social anthropologist Kate Fox, the rules are to keep challenging, don’t capitulate, don’t get too serious and try always to be one up.


The intention here is not to appear to be above or below the partner in the conversation but to be on the same level. It’s a generalisation of course, but men are wired to try to beat the competition whereas women are wired to build and nurture relationships.The same…but differentGenetic research at Stanford shows we share 90% of our genetic material with chimpanzees. Women’s brains are 10% smaller than men’s but some parts of their brains are denser than men’s.
Particular parts of the brain become active when engaged in particular functions but the gender difference is that men use specific parts of their brains for specific activities whereas women use several parts for the same activities, often in different hemispheres.The corpus callosum is the thick stem that connects the two brain hemispheres.
For example, men use the right side of the brain when processing language and women do, too. But women also use a small part of the left brain hemisphere when processing language.The thicker corpus callosum and spread of neuronal activity and blood flow seem to indicate an ability to use several parts of the brain at once and explain why men’s thought seems to be focussed and women’s thought has been characterised as multi-tasking.
Th ese different ways of processing information can translate into men believing that women are “all over the place” and women believing that men “don’t see the whole picture”. Of course, there are many men who multi-task and consider a range of perspectives and many women who take a direct, linear approach.
But research has shown that male and female behaviours generally differ in the following ways:Communication disconnect A man and a woman, equal in the organisation’s hierarchy, are given an assignment to complete together. The woman says “How do you think we should go about this?” Typically, what she means is “I’m pretty sure I know what needs to be done but of course I’m interested in your opinion and don’t want to push my ideas.” However, what her male colleague may hear is, “I really don’t know what we should do so I’d like you to take the lead please.” And when he does, she feels resentful! Women on the other hand are likely to try to avoid direct disagreement and seek to find ways of recognising some value in the suggestion, even if they don’t agree with it. Women are interested in maintaining good relations and so are using the emotional as well as the data processing parts of their brain in responding to the suggestion.
Often women, inspired by some equality gurus, will seek to behave more like the archetypal male.


Men will bite their tongues and phrase their points as questions rather than challenges, particularly if senior women are present, or in the chair.Culture – both company and national – plays its part as well. Dutch and Americans are more inclined to be direct in their comments than some Asians, regardless of gender. It helps if you recognise that there are genetic and physical differences that shape male and female communication styles. Don’t presume one style is better than the other – unless, like most behaviours, it’s taken to excess.
Be aware of the effect your communication style is having on everyone else, including the other gender. Your purpose should be reflected in the way you communicate.Surely we can achieve communication harmony. After all it’s not as if we’re from different planets – or are we?---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------About Pam HurleyPam has an MA in English Language and Literature from Edinburgh University. She spent her early career in UK central government working on health, welfare and criminal justice.Following a spell as a member of Shell International’s renowned Global Scenarios team Pam set up her own consulting practice in 1998. Since then she has worked with over thirty international blue chip companies individually and in small groups helping them to explore what the future may hold and how best to prepare for it.Among Pam’s areas of expertise are cultural and generational differences, employee engagement, leadership and innovation.
Her clients have included Allianz, China State Shipbuilding Corporation, Cisco Systems, GlaxoSmithKline, Ministry of Defence and Unilever.



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