The Secret Code Women Need to Know

This is how we do it- Montell Jordan              (sing it loud and proud if you know the lyrics)

I’ve had the privilege of getting a front row sneak peek look into how men communicate when searching for, interviewing for and communicating about a job offer and it is WILDLY different than the ways I’ve ever, ever seen a woman go about this.

As I’ve mentioned before, WWG is not a place where we all hug it out and complain about how bad things are or have been for some of us. This is a community of women who want to make the changes, celebrate the differences and make certain other women are offered the resources and advice some of us may not have had in our careers. Each One Teaching One.

In that spirit, I’ll share this little secret difference.

Men are much more confident in their communication than most women and I don’t mean that in the ‘duh’ way we hear them speak to one another. I’m referring to the emails exchanged between one man and another.

I won’t say that all women are less confident than men but I can’t say that the language choices we use are the same and if we want to push past the bro code, communicate effectively and secure more seats at the table for ourselves, we would be wise to examine our own communication styles.

The most recent example of this: I was asked to proof an email being sent as a follow-up to an interview call, one of those “we’ve already seen you present but we want more members of the team to speak with you” calls and all the team members and the candidate were male.  This was my new laboratory!  I was behind the curtain and I was paying close attention.

 All feedback was excellent and phrases like “you are a perfect fit for this role” and “I can tell I would work well with you, your style and your experience are what we need” were used and then it was time for the emails to be sent. In one of them, the male candidate wrote, “I know I would be a perfect fit for this role” and I questioned him about it.  I knew already that the interviewer had used this phrase but I still thought it might be presumptuous to be so bold and I asked, “Is this how you typically talk with these people?  I mean it and I want to understand because I have to tell you, a woman would hear that exact phrase and still write, 'I hope we may work together', maybe not a woman with 15-20 years experience but trust me when I say, that most women would still soft sell themselves.”

He looked at me as if I have nine heads. This was clear cut. The man used a phrase and this man was parroting it to him. The end. Why was I questioning him like Jane Goodall studying gorillas?

As a hiring manager, a mentor and a woman myself, I can promise you that in 80-90% of the emails I’ve been asked to edit or have read myself, women speak an entirely different language.  A male hiring manager may write directly and succinctly and I’ll read a reply from a woman that has too many words, and too much gratitude.

If you’ve never taken a training on communication style, consider asking your organization to do a team training called LIFO.  From the online tests and exercises, you’ll learn how your communication style is helping you or hindering you and how to learn to communicate in the style of your clients and colleagues.

Here’s a short Fortune Cookie preview of the extensive information you'll glean from this training:

If you start an email with “I hope you’re well” or “I hope this finds you well”, either never send that to a senior person in an organization or just advertise that you are extremely junior in your role.  Even if you aren’t, you will come off that way and instantly you’ve wasted too many words on your audience and the person whose attention you are trying to garner will think you have no influence or authority. The more senior a person is and especially if this person is a male, use fewer words, make certain your email can be read in one snapshot on a phone WITHOUT HAVING TO SCROLL and you either answer the questions asked of you or if hoping to be hired, thank them for their time, remind them of your differentiated excellence, ask for next steps and throw in something personal you two may have discussed, something which makes an extremely busy person stop for half a minute and like you a little more.  That’s it.

  • Stop with the extra gratitude
  • Stop with the extra words
  • Stop soft pedaling
  • Stop mentioning the weather
  • Stop wishiing someone well
  • Stop mentioning a weekend unless it is Friday and you are signing off with “Have a great weekend”

Remember the words from “Hamlet”.  BREVITY IS THE SOUL OF WIT. The more words you use, the more you are exhausting someone. Be succinct.

Here is a recent example of a male hiring manager communicating with a female candidate; one he was clamoring to hire because he had approached her:

Him: “Are you free Monday to discuss the details of this job? Be thinking about the salary needs you have and we’ll also discuss ramping and times per week you’ll need to be in the office.  What time works for you Monday?”

Do you see what he is doing?  Look again.  He WANTS to hire her. He’s using language like ramping, and telling her that she should be prepared to share what she needs to make in order to leave her current company.

This was her first response: “Sooner rather than later works, thank you so much for the chance to speak Monday and anytime after 1 pm is good for me.  My salary needs are—————— and I am happy to be in the office as much as possible in the beginning.  I hope you have a great weekend and I look forward to speaking with you Monday!”

Do you see why we made edits to her response before she sent it?  First, some background.  The office is in Menlo Park and she lives in San Francisco so if you know that commute, you know she’s about to give up hours of her life to a commute when she currently doesn’t have much of one at all. That time is worth money.  Next, she spoke first in regards to salary. While she has a long relationship with this person, them having worked together in the past, he may be counting on their relationship and she needs to be focused on what this move will cost her and why she is the best candidate for the new team.  Lastly, she used too many words and was too grateful. That will smell like weakness to a male hiring manager and yes, to a female hiring manager over the age of 40.

Here is how we edited it together :

“Monday is perfect and anything after 1 pm works for me. Will you send along the calendar hold? I have a list of questions about the benefits, salary, commute and ramp and start date so if we could set aside 45 mins to an hour, I think we’ll cover everything.  Have a great weekend”

She took control of the conversation in the second one. She moved from “grateful candidate so happy to be considered” to “I am a known quantity. These people know my work, my work ethic and my personality and in a small start up, every single hire makes a huge impact. My current benefits are vast at this mega large global company and some of those benefits won’t exist at a smaller company, the salary I’ll need should be more than a 20% increase to make a move but I’m a smart negotiator and he knows I’m going to make him suggest a number first”

We’ll cover the ways men and women communicate differently throughout this Summer, but keep in mind a few principles:

  • Short is sweeter. Don’t make anyone scroll. EVER
  • Appreciation for someone’s time (the most precious resource any of us has) is always the right move but gratitude for being considered is not.
  • Parrot their words. No soft pedaling, no toning it down. Direct, to the point.
  • Inject something personal you may know about the person or something referenced.

Now, if the male is your client or colleague, live by the fist two bullet points and you’ll be cracking the code.

More super secret communication code crackers soon.