He Speaks, She Speaks

A gender communication specialist unravels the mystery of how men and women communicate.

Do Women Take Things Personally?

Differences in the socialization of making mistakes and taking criticism.

In How Men Think: The Seven Essential Rules for Making It in a Man’s World (Mendell,1996), the author summarizes childhood sex differences in the socialization of making mistakes and taking criticism:

Little boys play a lot of competitive sports.

Little girls play with dolls.

Little boys make a lot of mistakes playing team sports.

Little girls can't make a lot of mistakes playing with dolls because there are no rules.

When a boy makes a mistake, he is encouraged to go back and try harder.

When girls make mistakes, they are comforted.

Boys learn that making a mistake may be embarrassing, but not fatal.

Girls learn mistakes are something to feel bad about.

Boys learn that you earn your team’s respect by striving to improve your skills after making a mistake.

Girls learn you will be consoled if you call attention to your mistakes [p. 127].

Finally, women sympathize with each other when they make mistakes and may be overly apologetic. “I am sorry” is heard more in women’s vocabulary than men’s vocabulary. In contrast, men think mistakes should receive a brief acknowledgment, be rectified, and then be forgotten. No one in business gets a bonus for calling attention to a mistake. By calling attention to their mistakes, women build a reputation for incompetence. Listen to men around the water cooler. Men don ’t hesitate to share their successes and victories while minimizing their mistakes. In addition, men will be accused of not taking ownership or responsibility for the error, and women can be perceived as taking ownership by making it personal.

Audrey Nelson is an international corporate communication consultant, trainer, author, and keynote speaker.

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