When to talk like a girl

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Tiffany Frandsen | News Editor |@tiffany_mf


Dr. Emily Hoffman and Speaker of the House of Representatives Becky Lockhart (R-Provo) spoke about perception and working relationships in the workplace, and verbal and non-verbal cues at Utah Valley University as the second installment of the UVU’s Utah Women & Leadership Project Talk Like A Girl series on October 28.

All women aged 16 and over as well as “all those who influence girls and women” were invited to attend, entitled “Talk Like a Girl: The Unique Communication Style of Women—When It Works and When It Doesn’t, according to the press release. Women made up the majority of the audience, but a handful of men attended.

Speaker Becky Lockhart talks about verbal and non-verbal cues in communication.

Speaker Becky Lockhart talks about verbal and non-verbal cues in communication.

Lockhart considers herself an introvert, and said that she does not like to smile. She is regularly told by her chief of staff that she needs to smile more.

“I choose to look competent, and thoughtful and serious,” said Lockhart.

She gave examples of sexism that still exist in the state. She has been treated differently for being female – when she takes a stand on issues, or speaks boldly, different adjectives are attributed to her than her male colleagues (for example, bossy, etc.).

“Using your real voice might make you uncomfortable. It might make the people around you feel uncomfortable, but until we make it normal for women to be heard, until we are heard for our ideas and not viewed as tokens, that’s the price we’ll play,” said Lockhart. “I, for one, have been willing to pay that price.”

Dr. Emily Hoffman, vice president of development and delivery at VitalSmarts, spoke about the way that women take a less aggressive position or a “one-down” position rather than the “one-up” position that men take. She said women generally try to create equality in the group or relationship, where men assume a leadership position.


Dr. Emily Hoffman tells women of the studies that prove they are competent leaders.

Dr. Emily Hoffman tells women of the studies that prove they are competent leaders.

Women try to create psychological safety so that others will like them. At the worst, people avoid crucial conversations, or sugarcoat the truth. To create a psychologically safe environment, women must focus on intent, said Hoffman, and come together for a mutual purpose, with mutual respect. People rarely become defensive about what is being said; they become defensive because of why they think it’s being said. Most people have good intentions, but things still go awry when the intent is misunderstood.

“I didn’t say that safety is caused by what intentions are, but how they are perceived,” said Hoffman. Rather than stepping down when someone gets defensive in a confrontational scenario, clarify.

Women ask more questions than men, Hoffman said, because asking questions is contrary to taking an authoritative position. She gave an example of a woman who received a lower grade in a rotation in physician school. The attending physician told her it was because she didn’t know as much as her peers did, which he assessed by her asking more questions.

Hoffman laid out ways societal rituals generally differ between genders.  Women ritually say, “I’m sorry,” to express concern, and ritually compliment and expect a compliment in return. Men ritualize opposition. In general, women view opposition as more authentic than men do.

Women are also less likely to give themselves full credit, and will refer to the group. Hoffman said that women are more likely to say, “We did a great job,” for example, rather than, “I did a great job.”

Hoffman encouraged women not to change the way they communicate to be more like men. She also told them that they are one of the biggest influences on other women.

“There is tremendously great research out there that suggests that women being women and women talking like women leads to tremendously wonderful results,” said Hoffman.

“Study after study has shown that for women, success and likability are negatively correlated,” said Hoffman. She cited additional studies that had better connotations for women.

A study done in 2011 by the consulting firm McKinsey called Women Matter, showed that companies with a higher proportion of female senior executives were 48% more profitable than those with a lower proportion. Hoffman cited a second study, conducted by Zenger Folkman (a local consulting firm), which found that women excelled in every leadership category.

A third study by Harvard’s Anita Wooley found that more successful teams had a higher number of women on their teams (but not percentage-wise – the exclusively female teams did not have the same success). The individual intelligence of team members did not have an affect on the success of the teams, but the social sensitivity of the team members did. The women tended to be more socially sensitive.

At VitalSmarts, Hoffman trains employees and managers at Fortune 500 companies, and consults at nonprofits and start-ups.

After Hoffman’s lecture, the audience split into groups to discuss the concepts and deliberated how to help Utah women strengthen their communication skills.