Nonverbal Communication and Strategic Flexibility

Strategic flexibility is the primary characteristic of successful people.

Posted Nov 27, 2016

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Strategic flexibility means expanding your nonverbal communication repertoire to use the best skill available for a particular situation.  Without using the strengths of both genders, including awareness of your own nonverbal communication skills and deficits, equal contribution at home or in the workplace is impossible. I have found that strategic flexibility is the primary characteristic of successful people—a vital component of excellent relationships at work and at home.  People who possess this ability are happier and more fulfilled.

Conventional wisdom tells us that our greatest strengths can also be our greatest weaknesses.  This is particularly true when we fall back on knee-jerk responses:  This is a man’s job, we think, or that’s women’s work.  When Abraham Maslow pointed out that everything looks like a nail to a person whose only tool is a hammer, he might well have been talking about one-sided masculinity or overplayed femininity. 

The truth is, there is no single way to behave in the world. Three models represent the types of inter-gender communication that each sex can employ:

Heightened gender identification: The man or woman exhibits and intensely defends his or her sex-typed nonverbal patterns.

Gender reversal:  The person moves forcefully in the direction of emulating the other gender’s communication ideals.

Inclusiveness:  The strengths of both genders’ traditional styles are respected and wide variations are allowed when fitting communication behavior to circumstances.

I, for one, argue for the merits of inclusiveness. Learning to understand women’s communication styles does not make a man “feminine” just as learning to understand a man’s style, does not render a woman “masculine.” Including some effective communication techniques of the opposite gender is no different than adding to one’s technical vocabulary or respecting another country’s customs.  A woman may develop assertive skills and still be characterized by her sensitivity; a man may develop interpersonal skills and still be characterized by his ability to exercise power. In Gendered Lives, Julia Wood shares a journal entry from “Miguel” that illustrates the notion of combining and valuing the full range of human qualities:

I like to be strong and stand up for myself and what I think, but I would not want to be only that. I am also sensitive to other people and how they feel. There are times to be hard and times to be soft…

By urging gender-flexing, I am not implying that men should become women and women become men. Heaven forbid!  But they can learn from one another without abandoning successful traits they already possess. Both men and women bring different nonverbal skill sets to the table. The more they can each expand their respective repertoires, the more successful they will be in relationships both at work and home. They have more options and choices!