How to Communicate Respectfully with Women
The hundreds of women I have worked with who seek to authentically speak their truth are each unique. They all come from different backgrounds. Some were raised in big cities and others in small towns and rural areas. Many were born and lived in different countries. Some had highly educated parents and others had parents who did not receive much formal education. These women work in many different professions and contribute to the world in varied ways. I know all my female clients and students are intelligent, capable, resilient, courageous and creative.
Despite their individual qualities, personal stories and circumstances, most of my female clients lose their voice and authenticity when they have to communicate in ways that require them to tap into their confidence and self-worth.
Whether it is speaking in public, setting healthy boundaries, discussing a difficult topic, negotiating their salary, or assigning a monetary value to services they are overqualified to provide, many of the women struggle to speak their truth because they get disconnected from their sense of confidence and self-worth.
In all honesty, I thought finding intrinsic confidence and self-worth was just my own personal journey; the universality of this experience for women came as a bit of a surprise. I did not know that I had to cultivate these two essential human qualities because I am female.
Why do women disconnect from their sense of confidence and self-worth?
When we learn language to communicate, we are children whose capacity for self-reflection takes about 14 years to develop.
By the time we develop the capacity for self-reflection, we have already received and internalized countless messages that tell us who we are.
These messages become so profoundly embedded in our internal dialogue that unless we find tools to explore their validity, we blindly believe them and take them as truth.
Of course, this happens to all human beings, not just females. However, if you belong to that half of the human race, then you constantly received messages that we lack capacity or worth because we are female.
I find it very sad when my female clients share with me that these messages continue to be communicated to them today in their homes and work place.
Messages that put us down, that undermine our confidence and self-worth are disrespectful messages.
What is respectful communication?
Respectful communication is a form of interaction that conveys the message that any human being we have in front of us, regardless of their gender has equal value to us.
Communicating respectfully with women has the added requirement of being aware of gender dynamics and the explicit and subtle ways in which women are told their capacity and worth are inferior to men.
Is this a blog for men only?
Absolutely not. Both men and women have communicated and continue to communicate with women in disrespectful ways. At a workshop I facilitated for women two weeks ago, most women shared that sometimes they felt more disrespected by other women. Women disrespect other women because we have been taught to compete with other women.
It is important to recognize that men also got the message that women lack capacity and worth. Many men carry the message in their unconscious.
Not all is bleak! There are more and more women and men working on understanding the biases and inequality brought forth by the messages they grew up hearing. And more and more men and women are looking for ways of communicating with women respectfully. I can attest to this! I see it every day with my clients and the parents who come to my workshops.
Both men and women have the responsibility and the ability to communicate respectfully with women.
How to Communicate Respectfully with Women
The tips and reminders I’m offering you are a compilation from my sessions with clients, my own experience as a woman, and answers from women who responded to my survey about communicating respectfully with women.
1. Consider your intention about how you want to communicate with women
If your intention is to communicate respectfully, then use language that describes them and their actions as having equal value and capacity as males.
2. Learn and seek to understand gender dynamics
There are many books and resources out there that elucidate how women and men relate and have been taught to relate differently. I strongly suggest you check out Riane Eisler’s The Power of Partnership.
3. Cultivate empathy for women, especially when you offer feedback
Before you offer feedback to a woman, ask yourself: if you were in this woman’s shoes, what you want to hear that helped you feel you valued and capable?
4. Acknowledge women’s experience and expertise in front of others in the same way you may publicly acknowledge men’s experience and expertise
Most women I work with have shared that they’ve had a disproportionate number of experiences of being shamed in front of others rather than being publicly acknowledged for their contributions. When I say disproportionate, I’m talking about a ratio of 9:1! It’s time to change this!
5. Communicate your discomfort rather than your labels when women do something that triggers you
Stop using labels that refer to women as b*tch when they are courageously expressing their sense of confidence and worth, especially if you think that this expression could undermine your sense of power or control.
Refrain from accusing women of being “emotional” when they communicate feelings you are uncomfortable experiencing.
6. Recognize women have greater access to express feelings than men
Neuroscientists say that the female brain is wired to have a greater emotional range than the male brain. Sociologists say that, historically, women have been conditioned and expected to feel more at ease with their feelings than men.
Whatever you may believe, stop considering that all women want to manipulate you or the situation when they express their feelings. In fact, asking women how they feel about something will help you have a more complete picture of their experience.
7. Use words that refer to women as women
You don’t talk about a man or a guy by saying “boy” or “puppy” or any other term that points to them not being developed. When you talk about women using terms such as “girl” or “chick,” you are putting them down, making them small, and perpetuating the disrespect women experience all over the world.
8. Avoid talking about women’s personal appearance as an attribute of their worth
Yes, we do live in a world of obsession with personal appearance. When you weigh a woman’s worth by the way she looks to you, you are giving her this message: “you are not a human being like me with a soul, intelligence, and capacities. You are an object that only has value if I feel pleased looking at it.” I bet this is not how you want others to consider you, or your female loved one, especially if they are your partner or daughter.
9. Give women the same kind of air time you give to males
If you are with a mixed gender group of friends, relative or co-workers start noticing how much more air time men are given and how many more times women’s airtime is interrupted or dismissed. Do your best to change this.
10. Have equal standards rather than double standards
If you don’t feel surprised or shocked by a man setting boundaries, communicating with confidence, or exerting his freedom and worth, then extend the same sense of neutrality to women in the exact same situations.
Know that whether you identify yourself as male, female, or intersex or third gender, you have an instrumental role in breaking the cycle of inequality, injustice and disrespect with every woman you encounter.
I’d love to hear from you the comments, insights and musings this blog elicited in you.
And if you are a woman who wants to learn to speak your truth with confidence and knowing your self-worth or if you are a man who want to learn to communicate with women respectfully, let’s talk. I will be delighted to support you.