Think HBR

A Woman’s Words

Suzanne Mahler
The Finer Point
Your writing style has more impact than even you may realise. With an average of 121 business-related emails sent and received each day, the way we write matters more than ever. It is forecast that by 2018, the average worker will send 43 emails each day – that’s five an hour, or one every 12 minutes (Radacti Group, 2014).
In an earlier column, I explained how ‘writing like a man’ can be advantageous in business. Business communication – and particularly email – can also benefit from a woman’s touch.
What do I mean by this?
Seeking consensus, sharing credit, disclosing information and acknowledging the individual are viewed as ‘feminine’ communication traits. People with a masculine communication style are more authoritative and to the point. In a busy workplace, a succinct email is efficient—but may be interpreted as abrupt or even arrogant. If you use a more feminine style, you can increase the chances of your request or response being well received.
In fact, research from our very own University of Newcastle found that where managers adopt a ‘feminine’ consultative style, they gain a greater understanding of their workforce’s culture, induce more subordinate satisfaction and trust, and ultimately, achieve more effective performance than those who do not (J Connell, 2000).
A feminine style fosters collaboration and trust.
· Share information when you receive it. Regularly withholding information can lead to distrust and low staff morale.
· Ask for others’ views and show that they were considered in the decision-making process.
· Give credit to others when it’s due.
· Acknowledge the person as an individual. Do you value their work? Is your email request adding to an already busy workload?
If the answer to either of these questions is yes, a simple acknowledgement can strengthen your working relationship.
It is, however, important not to go too far.
· Don’t overshare. Determine what information is important and relevant to the email recipient. Staff members don’t need to know the minutia of your management meetings but they do need to know about any decisions that will affect their day-to-day work.
· Show that you are also capable of making decisions independently. A democratic workplace is fantastic but your staff won’t think of you as leadership material if you never act with authority. Likewise, if you give away all the credit for your team your colleagues will be left wondering exactly what it is that you do.
· A personal touch is fine, but sharing or seeking too much information can be viewed as unprofessional or intrusive. Leave the conversations about your kids/ pets/ crazy in-laws for a more suitable time and place.
With so many emails filling up our inboxes, it’s easy to forget that each message is a written record of what and how we communicate as professionals. Next time you are about to send a work email, ask yourself: how will this message be perceived?
Suzanne Mahler Suzanne Mahler
Is the owner and writer forThe Finer Point. Suzanne is a professional writer and editor and has 8 years’ experience as an executive in government policy. Her work history included assessing funding applications on behalf of the Australian Government.