Why Powerful Women Should Talk Less
It’s perilous to ignore the way people expect you to behave. Like it or not, we have stereo typical expectations when it comes to talking and power.
We expect powerful men to talk more than their less powerful counterparts. This is not true for powerful women.
Women – men – who talks more:
You’d be wrong if you believed women talk more than men. Both genders use about 16,000 words a day, on average. We talk about different things, however. Women talk more about relationships and men about sports and gadgets. (Research reported by NPR)
Powerful women – powerful men – who talks more:
Powerful men talk more than less powerful men. However, powerful women talk with the same frequency and duration as less powerful women. Additionally, powerful men talk more than equally powerful women. Why? Women worry about backlash.
Are concerns over backlash justified? Absolutely!
Powerful men are perceived as more competent when they talk more. Surprisingly, powerful women are perceived as less competent when they engage in the same behavior as powerful men. (Research: “Who Takes the Floor and Why: Gender, Power, and Volubility in Organizations“)
It’s expected, even desirable, for powerful men to talk more in comparison to those less powerful. On the other hand, current stereo typical attitudes call for powerful women to talk less.
What types of backlash, other than being perceived as less competent, do powerful women encounter when they talk “too much?”
How do you decide it’s time to fight a stereo typical belief vs. adapting?
I am speechless!!!!! hihi 🙂
Seriously. It is a shame that it is considered less feminine to have an opinion of any thing else but cosmetics, food and children. The latter being of course very, very important. I truly hope that this stereotype is losing grounds. Thank you for putting up this subject again Dan. It is a very serious matter.
I’m a sr. project manager in a large global company, and most of my project resources and stakeholders are men; it’s not uncommon at all for me to be the only woman in the room. I’ve been asked to get coffee and order lunch, and it’s *always* assumed that I’m the one taking the notes, regardless of my role in the meeting.
I’ve solicited advice from the few women higher on the totem pole and they all struggle with this too. Seems like no matter what we do, we can’t win. If we’re quiet, we’re perceived not only as not competent, but also as having no authority/deferring to the men. If we speak up, we’re perceived as domineering and pushy and trying to take control–even if we’re supposed to be in charge to start with. The worst backlash, though, is that some people (both women and men) still maintain the perception that woman are advancing for reasons other than achieving results (ifyaknowwhatimean). Still.
And that’s the answer I’ve found to Question #2. You know it’s time to fight the stereotype when there’s no way to work effectively within or around it.
“You know it’s time to fight the stereotype when there’s no way to work effectively within or around it.”
Thanks, Christine! It’s great to see someone else with the same experience! How do you fight the stereotype (other than by saying that it’s someone else’s turn to take notes)? I’m still trying to work out a succinct, clear, diplomatic way to say, “I also agree with the idea Bob proposes, since it’s the same one I proposed ten minutes ago when you snickered and ignored me. Explain your behavior, gentlemen.” Is there a way to say without hearing someone mutter on the way out, “What’s with her? She must be on the rag!”
Thank you for sharing :o), “I’m still trying to work out a succinct, clear, diplomatic way to say, “I also agree with the idea Bob proposes, since it’s the same one I proposed ten minutes ago when you snickered and ignored me. Explain your behavior, gentlemen.” It’s nice to know that I am not alone and others have been in suh meetings!
Tried responding to this earlier, so hopefully I’m not going to seem long-winded with an accidental repeat!
Christine, you’re a genius! “You know it’s time to fight the stereotype when there’s no way to work effectively within or around it.”
When I first saw the repeat Tweet about the blog this morning, I immediately wanted to go on a rant, but didn’t want to lose my power position! 😉
While there’s seemingly tons of research on the subject, I can only say from my experience – and perhaps it’s just because I’m in the talk-heavy field of PR – that men are just as big of chatter boxes as women. And when they go on a tear, I’m likely to think negatively of them as I would a conversation hog woman. So when I “disagreed” with the statement, Dan, it was only to say that I think both sexes ought to listen twice as much as they talk.
And in the absence of that, I return to Christine’s comment — I feel like I’ve been given license to break out and say what I want, and not worry about the backlash of what people will think. Minding my place 100% of the time and getting nowhere is a bigger issue than fearing a strident opinion will get me labeled as hormonal.
Christine: Whenever I reference the following in a speaking to professional women, every woman in the room nods her testimonial “Been there. Done that.”
“Every woman who has been the only, or one of two, in a meeting has had the experience of saying something and being ignored or negated. Then within minutes a man (this is where the head nods begin and predict the ending of the story) says the same thing and suddenly it’s a great idea. Never, is there any acknowledgement that SHE said the very same thing a few minutes earlier. My suggestion: Call attention to this dynamic, not in a threatening or angry manner as that will result in defensiveness, but in a curious “let’s learn about this together” approach and with humor, if you can. The best approach for ending unconscious bias is to make it conscious.
You certainly like stirring up the gender stereotypes on your blog. I appreciate that due to the working environments and outdated working cultures, women still have to work immensely hard to gain the same rewards and recognition that men do. I don’t think that articles like this help change this culture.
Leaders no matter their gender need to think about adapting their style in order to communicate more effectively.
Surely it is about the quality and the energy it invokes in peoples hearts and minds, rather than the quantity?
‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Maya Angelou (a successful woman who wasn’t afraid to speak out)
I too use the Maya Angelou quote a good deal, and surely the point is here that we have a greater understanding these days of the neuro-biological implications of perceptions – particularly first impressions – and that the amount you talk is probably literally the last thing people notice, long after all the immediate sensory data they are processing about how you look and sound and ‘feel’. So not just words, certainly not quantity of words, but quality of body use and voice and other subtler associations play into this.
If anyone really imagines that talking more without creating rapport first will positively influence others, what an odd culture we are living in, whatever our gender. While I have often experienced the men-talking-more phenomenon, I would suggest that in itself it is more tolerated that admired, and that to give women the best chance of being heard, we need to be aware that we are in control of some of the factors that make a difference (body and voice use included).
So in support of those advocating more active listening and less talking for the sake of it, I totally agree – and let’s do it because want to, not because we are forced to by outmoded attitudes. Let’s also make sure we are representing ourselves with as much authenticity, focus and centre as we can. Men are over-represented in positions of power for many unsavoury reasons, so when, as Christine Niles says, we have to fight the stereotype, let’s do it with our own standards of power and integrity.
Thank you for a fruitful discussion!
About the wise quote from Maya Angelou: ‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
– How can you make someone feel good if you do not tell them,
– how can you ensure that what you see as a wholesome idea will see life,
– how can you make sure that good work is continued,
– how can you ensure that bad work is stopped,
without first realy listening, observing and then TALK?
It does not happen by just sitting there – watching – and hoping someone else will say it. I have done that too – for a long time – and regreted afterwards.
Then again: Let us be authentic. Some people are talkative others are not.
Thanks for the sensitive post, added value as always.
I think it is always better to talk less, One of the reasons is that talking more make you more vulnerable, and expose you more to people who may use your words and intentions as intelligence to form strategies and plans against you, utilizing your weaknesses for example to their advantage, or make your more accountable than you wanted.
Since women are more frequently found in less supportive environment, this is perhaps one of their reasons.
The powerful leaders (men- women) know the balance to be effectively vulnerable!
Besides I don’t think we should fight a stereo typical belief, but find our way of being effective in our role and environment we are in, in home or work 🙂
In my opinion, there’s a danger for anyone who “talks more,” regardless of gender. The more you talk, the more you can dig yourself into a hole, trip up and say something insensitive or flat out wrong, and lose credibility, especially in meeting situations. Personally, I think “active listening,” that is, speaking to ask questions, and then actually caring about the answers and responding, shows a lot more power than chattering on or being a show-off, know-it-all. As a woman who tends to talk a lot, I have seen how this trait has perhaps worked against me, so I’ve practiced this active listening skill as I’ve matured and find it is much more effective. Also, the person in the room who talks the most often becomes the one people begin to tune out. Being concise takes fewer words and shows much more command of language and thought.
Christy – what genuine and self assessing feedback! I can also see myself in your comments. I have an additional hinderance in that I have a southern accent. I’ve had a number of people tell me after meeting me face to face that on calls their first impression was that I was a lower level team member rather than the project leader…just because of my voice!
Are you saying christy, that’s its better to ask others to ask themselves? 😉
I do agree with you, the positive, inquiring mind rather than the opinionator or fact stater may get more traction (and respect) in the long term because you are asking individuals/groups to look within, without serving up what may be an obvious answer.
Motivational interviewing, especially turned inward, is a very powerful process, have to be comfortable with the mirror though.
Before speaking, pause and reflect, is what you are about to say/ask consistent with the vision, mission & values of the group? Bet things would be a bit quieter in meetings. (Might even be shorter too!)
As far as changing stereotypes, I really thing that’s a situation where you have th accept the things you cannot change (other people and their attitudes) and change the things you can (my behaviors). I can still be my best self while adjusting myself to the stereotypes that exist. Active fighting is more often than not an uphill battle that can’t be won, and a collosal waste of precious energy and leadership. Just my opinion, as a woman.
Interesting thoughts, Dan. I think that, no matter what gender you are, the old saying ‘it’s better to keep your mouth closed and be thought a fool than to open it and confirm it’ is very true. When I am in leadership mode I listen a lot and take in what others are saying before I make contributions that generally either facilitate further discussion or thought or are show-stoppers. That is, I’ve heard everyone’s opinions, I’ve sat quietly and synthesised the lot before summarising, making a decision (if needed) and moving on. Sometimes I’ll give my opinion but it’s not always needed. I suppose I would fall into the category of saying little and making what little I do say count the most.
I am surprised by the research. I was not aware about it. I think this is perception bias. Generally, we live in male dominated world though we talk about women freedom and reservations. We perceive women less competent than men. I think one of the fundamental reason could be our inability and ego to accept the fact that women could be more competent than men. Organizations can play major role in removing such stereotype thinking. They should reward merit, performance, and effort irrespective of gender. Women are natural managers and hence can handle situations better than men. Organizations should also create opportunity where anyone can excel without being affected by relations, connection and perception.
I think powerful women should create their example by being more humble, connected and providing opportunity to their male counterparts at workplace. They should win the hearts of male by showing humility and respect towards them.
All leaders…men and women…need to be careful not only about what they say but how much they say. People pay attention to the powerful, and there is always someone looking for the mistakes or the missteps. Can powerful men simply get away with saying more because the perception is that he is too powerful for it to matter? Do powerful women need to be more cautious because their place of power is perceived less permanent? That may speak most directly to the stereotypes that you mention. Until a woman’s place of power is revered with the same respect of her male counterparts, powerful women will act differently than the men. MMF
I think if there is someone in the room who needs to be heard, we should listen to him or her. If we have wisdom, we won’t care if it is a he or a she. While I understand the research, I question our ability to discern who should be powerful. Historically speaking, we have yet to learn to avoid the trap of what someone looks like when choosing a leader or determining who should be powerful or influential.
If you watch boys play, much of that play is competitive from video games to king of the hill there is always a winner and a loser. The winner gets the bragging rights; the powerful man gets to talk the most. This is a recognized pattern with men. The play of girls tends to be more cooperative and inclusive. Girls tend to make sure that everyone gets a turn and feels included. When a powerful woman talks more she is breaking those rules and is seen less as a leader and more as a bully.
Changing these stereotypes is hard and it can be harder to change the opinions of other women than the opinions of men. Men can be uncomfortable at first by the intrusion of the powerful woman into the game but will recognize the same win/loss signs they are used to. Women see someone who is not following those inclusive game playing rules and have can have a harder time adapting. I think this is changing with more young women playing sports longer into their high school and college days but we’re not there yet.
Look how Helen Hunt’s character was treated in the movie she co-starred in with Mel Gibson, “What Women Want”. The first meeting while she’s talking, Mel Gibson’s character is making fun of her. The findings of the research is certainly unjust to women, but they’re just the facts.
Another backlash of powerful women talking too much: people don’t take what you say seriously- if she always seems to be talking just to hear herself, nobody will believe what’s coming out of her mouth is important enough to listen. Where did we all got this idea that we have to be with people and conversation turns to something we know little to nothing about and have to put in our two cents just to appear competent? I get called out in groups when I don’t have anything to comment on a particular subject of conversation. I simply don’t know enough about it to interject with substance, so I’m listening and hoping to learn something from others in the group.
In this instance, I don’t believe I should fight the stereotype or facts. Powerful women could benefit from staying quiet and observing and listening more often; myself included. God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason. 😉
It is interesting to think of the perspective given with such a simple thing as speech. In my life, I have found that I use speech to get my point across by playing the fool and “cracking jokes” about any given situation or topic (and in turn am never viewed seriously because I think people equate “wit” as a lack of authority on a topic because I choose to joke about the economy as opposed to turning the discussion to the deep inner workings of money, government, and business).
With that being said, I think I use more than my allotted 16,000 words a day, but what that buys me is: 1) good report with my fellow workers and clients 2) the ability to have a laugh and de-sensitize topics such as why a shipment was late to my customer, or why a particular sports team is not winning etc. I also think that it does make me more confident about a broad range of topics, but it does not buy me empowerment.
I am interested to see if others note the same?
That’s not what I see in my work environment… Maybe, it’s a different culture in Quebec. What I do see is when a woman is getting emotional in a meeting she will be seen as “having lost control” and if it’s a man, he’s just showing leadership !
hmmmmmm, I think that a little assumptive ! 😉 Then maybe you haven’t met many Belfast women …….. by goodness, do they have a voice, that calls for attention …….
This blog is so timely! I met with a more senior male colleague just this week; asked for mentorship, and he instead deferred me to several women colleagues, with the excuse that I might be able to relate better to them. Apparently since I am female I was not relevant enough for him to consider mentoring me; that surely must be ‘women’s work’.
This is interesting because I was just asked to be a mentor by a man. The first time it has ever happened to me.
Boy, do I know this story all too well and have been picking my words and appropriate timming to speak for years as not to be thought of as a “running faucet.” And even so, I always leave the conversation wondering what the executive males thought. Is there an end to this?
Thank you Tina! That was refreshing.
Much wisdom has been said about the value of being silent.
– Silence is gold
– we have two ears, one mouth
– we reveal our stupidity when we open our mouth.
This is all true and the result: we say little.
Wisdom can be misused to keep people in their allotted place.
Should women raise their voices more often in a corporate setting? Or should women ajust and listen – like we obviously do?
I will say like Winnie the Pooh when Rabbit asked “Honey or condensed milk with your bread?” he was so excited that he said, “Both”, and then, so as not to seem greedy, he added, “but don’t bother about the bread, please”.
The few women that are present in these contexts should – for the benefit of all – speak out more often.
Thank you for your reply, I am sure that with time and our womanly wisdom we will prevail!
Good insight here. I would tend to agree. Thanks for the share.
Great article! You do a wonderful job of dealing with an extremely difficult and sensitive subject!
Huh. Interesting. As you said, it’s another case of how the same behaviour is perceived differently depending on the gender displaying it. Certainly many men are well trained to tune out when any woman starts talking a lot. There are certainly some men I wish would talk less. It also depends on the environment. In some environments, excessive talking by powerful men is a form of bullying. They don’t let anyone else assert their thoughts or opinions, making their words THE word. In most cases, though, a lot of talking by both genders come from the same place of intention… a desire to communicate that is less than organized.
What types of backlash, other than being perceived as less competent, do powerful women encounter when they talk “too much?” That “Speech is silver, silence is golden” is gender neutral while the person becomes truth leader.
How do you decide it’s time to fight a stereo typical belief vs. adapting? Don’t fight but adapt because it is not root cause.
Are these stereo typical gender expectations true in elementary schools? Men are minorities in this work place. As one of few men in this setting, I feel that I’m the one who has to be more careful in communications. Anybody got research on that?
This is very unfortunate. I run into a lot of men who use a lot of words that don’t mean anything, particularly those without an MBA trying to compete with those that do. Phrases such as “managing expectations” and “the (industry) space” should be banned as well as the improper use of the terms strategy and (this one kills me) impacted. No matter the number of words, substance over trying to sound smart and saying nothing.
Dan, you are staying uncharacteristically quiet through all this.
This is an issue that I take great interest in. So I take a deep breath and talk again.
More than 20 years ago the norwegian Professor Berit Aas publiched a book to promote womens liberation. This book had great impact in my country. It was called The five control techniques – the tecniques being
– Withholding of information,
– Condemnation whatever you do,
– Application of guilt and shame.
It has later rightly so been recognized that men also are victims of these techniques but Professor Aas made a very good point – way back then – stated that women were held back by these techniques. The techniques are served both by women and men.
I’d love to hear a woman’s perspective on this, rather than a male. http://storify.com/andreacook/a-memoir-of-today-s-professional-woman
Reblogged this on willowcreeksa.
Hi again Dan.
Since you made this statement on your blog I have been thinking – a lot. Normaly your statements are very wise and smart and very wholesome. I always look forward to read your posts.
This time I have asked myself: Is this to provoke, to enlighten or is he serious – that powerful women should talk less?????
We could have a stiff or lofty intellectual discussion about what “powerfull” mean – what “should” mean – what “talk less” mean in terms of less than what?
However frankly it does not matter – I totally disagree with you! The statement is too categorical.
No one should be told to talk less unless there is a plain, in sight – obvious reason for it – No body. Our integrity depends on it. Not theirs – but ours! All should of course be encouraged to talk sense and ad value. That is true but powerful women have more than enough to think about if not also to shut up. We who do not love to talk have used years to learn that we do add value, that our opinion actually is beneficial for many besides ourself. So do not tell us to shut up. There are a million other things to say – but not that!
Respectfully from me to you 🙂
I’ve appreciated your other comments and this one too.
I posted this to raise awareness of recent research that shows the double standard the C-level women are held to. I’ll stick by the general statement that current research indicates it’s better for C-level (powerful) women to talk less than their mail counterparts. I’m not saying it’s right. But it looks like it’s good for how they are perceived and their careers.
No offense intended with the title…just a response to the research I read.
You have my respect,
Yes, as anne4siri says, “the statement is too categorical”. We, both male and female, are simply people.
We are all human beings.
The entire group benefits when “all” are encouraged to share opinions and insights.