44% of women take the phrase “bless your heart” to mean “you’re dumb”, compared to 77% of men who would think they were being told “you’re sweet”, a new study has found. The survey, by telecommunications provider TollFreeForwarding.com, asked 1,000 American workers about communications at work, to identify differences in gender.
The survey revealed the differences between men and women when it comes to communication and what is and isn’t appropriate in the workplace. The majority of women (93%) said flirting at work is always inappropriate, compared to well over one in four (27%) men who think flirting in the workplace is acceptable. Similarly, one in five (20%) men see no issues with discussing sex in a professional workplace – something most women (94%) disagree with.
The study also found that women are more likely than men to perceive casual communication in the workplace as negative, with over half of women (51%) taking “with all due respect” as a negative communication, compared to only 32% of men. Further still, one in four (26%) men said they took the phrase “with all due respect” as a ‘very positive’ communication at work – that’s double the number of women (13%) who said the same.
However, women may also be missing subtle hints when it comes to their work quality. Almost half of men (44%) would mean “this is awful and needs redoing” when they say they have a “few amends”. Only one in four women (26%) agreed with this meaning, with most perceiving this communication as “there are just a couple of typos”.
Shouting, too, was an area in which the genders disagreed. Men are four times as likely to shout in a professional workplace, with one in five men (19%) saying they find shouting at work acceptable compared to only 5% of women who said the same.
Clinical psychologist, Robin Rosenberg, spoke of the results, explaining why women may be more cautious with actions such as flirting and shouting at work, as well as why they may tend towards negative perceptions in communication:
“Historically and currently, women have been the recipients of bias and discrimination in the workplace. One possible explanation for this gender difference is that women are more likely than men to be on the “alert” for possible negative actions toward them. Being more likely to see a negative subtext (an “obstacle”) may help women better navigate around such obstacles. To use a different metaphor, it’s important to know where the landmines are so that you can step around or over them, but not on them.”
Jason O’Brien, COO of TollFreeForwarding.com said of the findings:
“With this study, we set out to find out if there are any clear differences in how we communicate between genders. It’s obvious there are differences between men and women with how we communicate at work and how we perceive communications, with men more likely to engage in behaviours such as flirting, shouting and discussing sex, women more likely to see negative subtext in casual statements, and men more likely to miss subtle insults.
“It is important in any workplace to be able to communicate effectively with a variety of different people. This study just highlights the importance of clear, professional communication at work, so that what we say is taken the way in which it is intended.”
You can find more data from TollFreeForwarding.com’s research on their blog.