The Only Girl in the Room: How I Learned to Communicate with Power

When I graduated from college with my shiny new degree in Journalism and Marketing (Texas A&M class of 1990, Whoop!), I had dreams of getting a job in an advertising agency.  In these dreams, the other girls on the account team and I would spend hours in creative meetings, brainstorming and exchanging brilliant concepts; present our design to clients who were awed and humbled by our creative genius; and rise quickly up the corporate ladder because of the strength of our skills, leadership, and ideas.

Where I landed was an engineering firm in the suburbs of Dallas, as the marketing coordinator in an office of middle-aged white men; a token representation of female engineers; and the secretarial staff.

And, that, my friends, became my norm for the next 10 years.

I went from that engineering firm to other, more prestigious, but equally gender-unbalanced engineering firms in Denver, and then to a construction management firm in Hong Kong that didn’t even pretend to hire female professionals, keeping the fairer sex to admin roles only.

In essence, I was brought up in the corporate world by males.  In those early years of my career, I was frequently the only woman, and a YOUNG woman at that, in an office full of men.

I worked, traveled, and socialized with men almost exclusively as a professional.

And, boy, did I learn a lot! (take me out for drinks sometime, I can tell you stories that would make your toes curl!)

One of the biggest lessons I learned from my superiors and co-workers is that men and women communicate in wildly different ways in the workplace. As a young woman freshly out of school and finding her way professionally, I was frequently dismissed, undervalued, and (worst of all) treated like a GIRL in business discussions.

I was raised to speak my mind and be confident.  I’d never had trouble communicating with the men in my life – family, neighbors, teachers, bosses at my after-school jobs – so this sometimes blatant dismissal of my input was eye-opening.

If you know me, you know that I wasn’t just going to accept the status quo.  Nope.  No one was going to keep this baby – er, professional woman – in the corner.

I started researching gender differences and learned that there are real differences between the sexes when it comes to how we communicate.  Some are learned and some are biological (and many are INFURIATING!).  For instance, did you know:

  • Women speak an average of 25,000 words a day while men utter only 7,000?
  • That when men speak, only the left side of their brain lights up, but when women speak they light up both sides?
  • That women may be more naturally suited to facilitating meetings because of our ability to put our egos aside and draw connections between varying points of view?

But what I also learned is that there are ways that women can adjust how we communicate that literally makes it easier for the men in our lives – professionally and personally – to HEAR and understand our meaning.  That we can communicate with authority and purpose.

Doing so doesn’t let men “off the hook” in our relationships.  It’s not giving our power away to accommodate the difference in communications styles, in fact, it’s bolstering our power because we’re communicating in a way that men recognize and respect.

Women can communicate confidently and persuasively by making just a few tweaks in their approach, like:

  • Slowing down the pace at which they speak and practicing pauses.
  • Using action words and avoiding the use of “I” language.
  • Building their confidence in speaking up, and not waiting to be called upon to contribute.

For centuries, women have been socialized to downplay our own power.  The truth is, we are naturally more adept at communication.  We don’t have to communicate like men to be strong, we can communicate like strong women.

Eventually, I learned to claim my space at the boardroom table.  My bosses and coworkers heard and valued my input.  I parlayed that experience of managing teams of male colleagues into my consulting career when I started my own business – for years my primary customers were, you guessed it, engineering and construction management firms.

Communications between the sexes has fascinated me since I started my career, and I’m so excited to be offering a new four-week program called “Communicate with Clout: How to Speak So Men Will Liisten” to any woman who desires to improve communications with the men in her life, personally and professionally.

Learn more about this program here >>