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But then I realized, hang on a second, I think this other person was the reason I felt so good about this talk, how did he do that? I started to think about a few of the things this person did, that made me feel so comfortable and open to speak with him. In usual Buffer blog manner, I thought of finding some real science to back up some of the simple habits this newly found friend had so ingrained when talking with me. The word conversation generally brings to mind talking—at least for me.

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Consider the following example: A focus group was organized at a major multinational company to evaluate a recently implemented flextime policy.

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The senior managers were judging the women in their groups by their own linguistic norms, but women—like people who have grown up in a different culture—have often learned different styles of speaking than men, which can make them seem less competent and self-assured than they are.

Veronica, a senior researcher in a high-tech company, had an observant boss. Meetings like this take place daily in companies around the country. Of the men, only Phil named Cheryl. The participants sat in a circle and discussed the new system. But his judgment, which may be dead right for some people, may be dead wrong for others.

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The head of a large division of a multinational corporation was running a meeting devoted to performance assessment. Many have argued that the growing trend of asing work to teams may be especially congenial to women, but it may also create complications for performance evaluation. Each senior manager stood up, reviewed the individuals in his group, and evaluated them for promotion.

Whatever the motivation, women are less likely than men to have learned to blow their own horn.

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But the next day, I was in for a surprise. These linguistic patterns are pervasive; you can hear them in hundreds of exchanges in the workplace every day. Boys tend to play very differently. Both men fail to realize that differences in conversational style are getting in their way. In other words, in this instance, the women evaluated the contribution of another woman more accurately than the men did. Boys with high status in their group are expected to emphasize rather than downplay their status, and usually one or several boys will be seen as the leader or leaders.

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Conversation is an enterprise in which people take turns: One person speaks, then the other responds. The second level is mostly invisible to us, but it plays a powerful role in communication. In every community known to linguists, the patterns that constitute linguistic style are relatively different for men and women. Cultural factors such as country or region of origin and ethnic background influence how long a pause seems natural.

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But that would be inaccurate. Women tend to react more strongly to the rapport dynamic, speaking in ways that save face for others and buffering statements that could be seen as putting others in a one-down position. So what was the problem? Individual speakers vary in how sensitive they are to the social dynamics of language—in other words, to the subtle nuances of what others say to them.

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He noticed that many of the ideas coming out of the group were hers but that often someone else trumpeted them around the office and got credit for them. Even so small a linguistic strategy as the choice of pronoun can affect who gets credit. Boys learn to use language to negotiate their status in the group by displaying their abilities and knowledge, and by challenging others and resisting challenges.

2. they use people’s names more – others will be more likely to help you

It includes such features as directness or indirectness, pacing and pausing, word choice, and the use of such elements as jokes, figures of speech, stories, questions, and apologies. The CEO obviously thinks he knows what a confident person sounds like. How could it be that all the talented women in the division suffered from a lack of self-confidence?

In the past four years, I have extended that research to the workplace, where I have observed how ways of speaking learned in childhood affect judgments of competence and confidence, as well as who gets heard, who gets credit, and what gets done. They usually play in larger groups in which more boys can be included, but not everyone is treated as an equal. Similarly, when Sally relocated from Texas to Washington, D. Although in Texas she was considered outgoing and confident, in Washington she was perceived as shy and retiring. He said he uses this rule: If the person making the proposal seems confident, the CEO approves it.

Judgments about confidence can be inferred only from the way people present themselves, and much of that presentation is in the form of talk. Everything that is said must be said in a certain way—in a certain tone of voice, at a certain rate of speed, and with a certain degree of loudness. The pattern of answers was revealing. Two of the three men named Phil. How you say what you mean is crucial, and differs from one person to the next, because using language is learned social behavior: How we talk and listen are deeply influenced by cultural experience.

I had left the meeting with the impression that Phil had been responsible for most of the suggestions adopted by the group. Unless managers are unusually good at listening closely to how people say what they mean, the talents of someone like Cheryl may well be undervalued and underutilized. There are many women and men—but probably relatively more women—who are reluctant to put themselves forward in this way and who consequently risk not getting credit for their contributions.

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I went back and asked all the participants they thought had been the most influential group member, the one most responsible for the ideas that had been adopted. Another is taking center stage by telling stories or jokes. The group concluded that it was excellent, but they also agreed on ways to improve it. But as I typed up my notes, I noticed that Cheryl had made almost all those suggestions. And, as in the case of Cheryl and Phil, they affect who gets heard and who gets credit. Consider turn taking, one element of linguistic style.

They use language to negotiate how close they are; for example, the girl you tell your secrets to becomes your best friend. Through ways of speaking, we al—and create—the relative status of speakers and their level of rapport. Girls tend to play with a single best friend or in small groups, and they spend a lot of time talking.

1. they listen first – then focus on being active and constructive

The CEO of a major corporation told me that he often has to make decisions in five minutes about matters on which others may have worked five months. Men tend to be sensitive to the power dynamics of interaction, speaking in ways that position themselves as one up and resisting being put in a one-down position by others. As a form of social behavior, language also negotiates relationships.

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The division head who was dumbfounded to hear that all the talented women in his organization lacked confidence was probably right to be skeptical. The CEO who based his decisions on the confidence level of speakers was articulating a value that is widely shared in U. Here again, many women are at a disadvantage. Consider the many women who have left large corporations to start their own businesses, obviously exhibiting enough confidence to succeed on their own.

In this sense, they grow up in different worlds.

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This is not to say that all boys and girls grow up this way or feel comfortable in these groups or are equally successful at negotiating within these norms. Thus slight differences in conversational style—in these cases, a few seconds of pause—can have a surprising impact on who gets heard and on the judgments, including psychological ones, that are made about people and their abilities.

From childhood, most girls learn that sounding too sure of themselves will make them unpopular with their peers—although nobody really takes such modesty literally. SinceI have been researching the influence of linguistic style on conversations and human relationships. That is because we learn ways of speaking as children growing up, especially from peers, and children tend to play with other children of the same sex.

But that solution is problematic because we associate ways of speaking with moral qualities: The way we speak is who we are and who we want to be. Her boss even suggested she take an assertiveness training course. If not, he says no. My research in companies across the United States shows that the lessons learned in childhood carry over into the workplace. The research of sociologists, anthropologists, and psychologists observing American children at play has shown that, although both girls and boys find ways of creating rapport and negotiating status, girls tend to learn conversational rituals that focus on the rapport dimension of relationships whereas boys tend to learn rituals that focus on the status dimension.

Studies show that women are more likely to downplay their certainty and men are more likely to minimize their doubts. Although there were women in every group, not one of them made the cut. Girls learn to downplay ways in which one is better than the others and to emphasize ways in which they are all the same.

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But, for the most part, these childhood play groups are where boys and girls learn their conversational styles. The division head began to doubt his ears. This might seem like a reasonable approach. But my field of research, socio-linguistics, suggests otherwise. Giving orders is one way of getting and keeping the high-status role. Every utterance functions on two levels. The two other women in the group named Cheryl.

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A pause of that length never comes because, before it has a chance to, Joe senses an uncomfortable silence, which he fills with more talk of his own. Whereas often we consciously consider what to say before speaking, we rarely think about how to say it, unless the situation is obviously loaded—for example, a job interview or a tricky performance review.