It’s Not Okay To Speak ‘Like’ A Woman

A colleague sent me this juicy article about a woman who went to a public speaking workshop and invited the speaker coach to critique her. He recommended she be more direct and forceful with her words.

As I began reading I was thinking…yes (!) and bravo for the speaker coach’s perspective. That was until I continued reading the article.

The author lamented how women shouldn’t have to speak like men in order to be heard. They should (in an ideal world) just speak as they normally do.

I don’t agree.

One of the pearls of wisdom that my dad shared with me (so many times I’ve lost count) was, “You play the rules of the game if you want to be part of the game”.

There in lies the clincher. Do you want to be part of the game?

Do women have to actually communicate as a man does to be heard? I don’t believe so, but everyone, males included, do have to be forceful and clear with their words in order to be heard and to have our ideas take flight.

My academic work is in communication and through my learning, I know that at our fingertips we have many tools, such as rhetoric, body language, and using the full power of our voice to communicate convincingly.

To be clear, I’m not saying you need to lose yourself or act like someone else, however, you do need to use the powerful nuances of language.

Why do we talk with others? Why do we make an effort to communicate? It’s basic. We communicate to connect, be heard, and to persuade/influence others.

(Sidebar here for those of you who are irked by the words persuasion and influence. Using persuasive techniques are how you make change happen. They aren’t manipulative, it’s simply a powerful, clear, focussed way to communicate.)

No matter how evolved or open-minded we are, DNA does get into the midst of things and the fact is, men and women do communicate differently.

From Deborah Tannen, a communication expert who has been conducting communication research since 1974.  “In every community known to linguists, the patterns that constitute linguistic style are relatively different for men and women. What’s “natural” for most men speaking a given language is, in some cases, different from what’s “natural” for most women.”

Women who want to excel at their careers are challenged with being heard. So are men who come across as being unclear and unfocussed.

From the research of Carol Kinsey Goman, “Women display more “warm” body language cues. They are more likely to focus on those who are speaking by orienting head and torso to face participants. They lean forward, smile, synchronize their movements with others, nod and tilt their heads (the universal signal of listening, literally “giving someone your ear”. Men send more “status” signals through an array of dominant behaviors, such as side-to-side head shaking, anger and disgust expressions. They stand tall or they sprawl, sitting with their legs spread or widely crossed, their materials spread out on a conference table, and their arms stretched out on the back of a chair.”

Damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Because if you talk like ‘a girl’ amongst a group of men often they’ll view you as soft and indecisive. And if women talk like a man, they are thought of as bitches.

My dad would have agreed with Madeleine Albright’s approach and I do too. She recommends you’ll have to let go of wanting to please others –  being called a bitch will need to roll off your back; get comfortable with interrupting, and that you can’t coast along on mediocre – women do still (sadly) have to work harder.

As wonderful and altruistic as it would be for women to stick with the communication style they have been conditioned to use, it’s not reality if they want to be heard.

Because until we’re all given the same number of playing pieces, we don’t get to choose the rules of the game.

To Your Voice,



I help build confident voices so they’re heard.

Janice Tomich is the founder of Calculated Presentations, a company dedicated to bringing out speaker’s stories to influence change. Janice coaches professionals, entrepreneurs, TED and TEDx speakers. She is a champion for equal representation by a diverse pool of presenters for all speaking events. Follow Janice on Twitter @janicetomich, on Facebook, on LinkedIn and subscribe for newsletter updates.

Be bold. Get heard. Inspire action.