Last Updated Jul 26, 2010 9:30 PM EDT
"Communication is about power. Men want to establish the hierarchy -- who's up, who's down, who's in charge," says consultant Sasha Galbraith, a partner with Galbraith Management Consultants. "Women tend to use communications as power with other people. They are trying to find common interests, where men just want to get this thing solved."
Galbraith and Marti Barletta, CEO of The TrendSight Group, which advises companies on marketing to women, offer five tactics to help women better understand male clients and customers:
1. Brace for endless negotiation, even over small things. "Everything is a trade. You don't just give things way. That's foreign to women," Galbraith says. Women should watch for evidence that men are trading information, contacts -- pretty much anything -- in the conversations before and during the contract negotiations. What they trade for indicates what they value.
Men will communicate the facts that they believe are "need to know" for the negotiations underway. Small talk about family and personal interests is often big for women, because they use it to establish rapport. For men, small talk is...small. They'll move through it quickly to get to the main agenda. It's not that they don't care. It's just that they don't care right now.
2. Constant course correction. If the women in the group start down a path of what-ifs and what-thens, exploring the implications of decisions, men will try to get the meeting back on track. It's okay for women to briefly explain why a tangent is worth examining, and it's okay for a man to ask if the tangent can be handled outside the negotiations.
3. Men prefer clear-cut choices. When asked for a final recommendation, they don't want to hear, "it depends." Offer your top-line recommendation first, then briefly backstop it with a few concise points. Wait before plunging ahead with more detail. What you've just given them might be enough.
4. Lead with your strongest point, not up to your strongest point. It's tempting to soft-pedal your point with a self-dismissive, "This just occurred to me," or "This may not matter, but..." preface. A better option is, "The conclusion I come to is..." Galbraith says.
5. Interpret what's going on. Articulating the point of a digression -- "Are you trying to build consensus?" "Are we trying to get more data?" -- will help the women in the group loop back to the primary decision, while signaling to men that the momentary excursion may yield valuable information for the decision.
"Both genders are right," Barletta says. " You have to stay focused on the priorities. Most of your competitiors will all offer the most important things. It's not until you get to the 'less important' factors that you can differentiate yourselves."
Image courtesy Flickr user Esparta, CC 2.0