As a successful woman in business, you’ve worked hard to build your career to its current stage. First, let me say congratulations on your success to date. I know how hard you’ve worked to get where you are today. As you’re looking ahead to the future and on International Women's Day, I thought it would be a good idea to dive into communication tips for female leaders.
Leadership requires authority. That authority is both earned and maintained. Simply put, communication tips for female leaders are often challenged by inherent biases (#breakthebias). It’s unfortunate that we’re still dealing with these kinds of issues in the 21st century, yet here we are. It’s my goal to help you move forward in your career with these five communication tips.
Practice grounding your tone
Unfortunately, voice tonality is one of those characteristics that unconsciously signals authority. Since men have been in positions of authority for millennia, it makes sense that a high-pitched voice works against the perception of women’s leadership ability.
While we want to eradicate this bias completely, an adaptation strategy that has worked with some of my clients is Grounding the Voice.
To do this, start by speaking from your core. It sounds weird, so let’s practice this together.
Say the letter “M” as if you were in a yoga class taking a deep breath and exhaling while pronouncing “Mmmm”. Do you feel it? This is where your lower tone comes from.
Now, say it again, this time pushing the air up from your lungs. You can almost feel your diaphragm contract as you say it.
To clarify, not every woman necessarily has a high-pitched voice, though most of our voices are higher than our male counterparts. That difference can feel unnatural, and to be fair, it’s somewhat exaggerated. The point is to help you learn how to naturally lower your tone when speaking with others.
One final tip on your voice: add pauses to emphasize your words. Together, these habits create a sense of conviction that reinforces the authority of your position.
Ask more open-ended questions — when appropriate
Communication is a two-way street. There is a time to be direct and a time to be inquisitive. The difference between the two is based on the role you’re playing at that given time.
For example, asking too many questions when it’s time to make a decision can make you appear indecisive. Looping back to authority, once you’ve made your decision state it directly and clearly.
However, when you’re gathering information, open-ended questions- that start with HOW and WHAT- will reveal details about how your team thinks. They may have feedback you haven’t considered.
Practice assertiveness in meetings
Do you remember my last statement about knowing when to be direct? This is one of those times. In a meeting, especially with a room full of your peers (and even more so if it’s a male-dominated workspace), clear, direct communication is best.
When you have the optimal solution, say so. Prepare your information according to who will be in the meeting. If you’re meeting with the CFO, numbers are key, whereas the CMO will be looking for solutions that make the company look its best. The CEO will want to know how this lines up with what other industry leaders are doing. Use these facts, figures, and analysis to explain your position straightforwardly. Don’t spend a moment of this time trying to prove your credibility — you already have that. Remember that you are in the role you have because you’ve earned the spot at the table.
Declarative statements, using the aforementioned “grounding your voice” tone will help communicate your plan to your co-workers and reinforce your status within the organization.
Watch the number of times you apologize
It’s a gender stereotype I’m not fond of but feel the need to address. Women sometimes tend to apologize more than they need to. There is a time and place to be polite. If you bump into someone at the store, naturally you’ll want to say, “I’m sorry.” That’s a fair reaction to an accidental situation.
If you’re asking for a deadline extension for your team, proceed with caution. Yes, you are sorry that the project will be late. Starting your requests for more time with that statement weakens your authority.
Not every situation requires an apology, however. Apologizing to a server who brought you the wrong plate isn’t necessary. It is their job to make it right. Simply request they replace the dish without feeling the need to apologize for asking.
Strike a balance between emotion and reaction
Regardless of gender, we all have emotions. How we display them can shape others’ opinions of us. There is nothing wrong with feeling frustration with a team member, direct report, or even a supervisor. It’s how we convey that reaction that’s important.
For example, let’s assume you have a direct report who has a problem with tardiness and who doesn’t care. How does that make you feel? Most likely frustrated, maybe even angry. Those emotions are completely valid and justified.
However, an emotional or visibly frustrated response to their behavior is less effective than a concrete analysis of what they’re doing wrong. Even worse, an emotional outburst can potentially undermine your authority.
I like to recommend mindfulness here. Focus the mind on one area of the body to redirect frustration and negative feelings. This helps you pivot your frustration into action, such as by developing an action plan to fix their behavior communicates your expectations to them. You’re angry, yes, but that’s beside the point. It’s time to fix what’s wrong and move on.
That’s the balance between emotion and reaction.
Communication tips for female leaders to
build and reestablish authority
Clear communication is essential to workplace success. Your vocal tone audibly demonstrates your leadership capability. Knowing when to ask questions and when to make a decision is vital. In meetings, don’t focus on proving your worth — be assertive and confident. Don’t apologize unnecessarily: recognize the right and wrong time to use those words. Finally, know how to feel emotion without conveying it. Develop an action plan and then get to work.
If you need help with these or any other workplace-related issues, I’m here to help. From communication to growth, I’d love to see you succeed. CONTACT ME to set up a time to connect and I’ll get back to you to figure out a time that works for us both.