By Steven G. MehtaSteve Mehta

It is no secret that men and women communicate differently.  Hundreds of books have been written on the difference between the genders in communicating.  New research, however, shows that men and women may be similar in aspects of communicating.

“It’s a stereotype that men are direct while women are tentative. I debunk that stereotype,” said Nicholas Palomares, assistant professor of communication at UC Davis. Palomares published his findings in “Women Are Sort of More Tentative Than Men, Aren’t They?,” an article in the August issue of the journal Communication Research.

“I found that women are more tentative than men sometimes, and men are more tentative than women sometimes,” Palomares said. “It depends on the topic and whether you’re communicating with someone of the same gender. Gender differences in language are not innate; they’re fickle.”

In his study, men were tentative when writing about stereotypically feminine topics, especially when they thought they were writing to a woman.  On the other hand, Women were tentative when writing about stereotypically masculine topics, especially when they thought they were communicating with a man.  However, there was no difference in hedging or tentative communications when discussing a gender neutral topic.

“The metaphor that men and women are from different planets should be jettisoned and replaced with a more accurate one,” Palomares writes in his article. “Men and women are from different blocks in the same neighborhood, and they tend to move often.”

This research is helpful in reminding us that communicating between genders can be a delicate thing. It is important during negotiations to not assume that when a women is tentative in her communications that she is unsure of the topic.  Instead, it could simply be because of the male-female dialogue.

Second, communicating in a tentative form is not a bad thing.  It helps to soften the comment that you make.  Mediators frequently use hedging terminology to ease the impact on the recipient.  Take for example two similar sentences:  “Your case is very bad on causation,”  versus “You might consider that perhaps your case on case isn’t as strong as you might think it is.”  Both sentences send the same message regarding the merits of causation.  The latter, however, is much easier on the recipient to accept.  Thus it is possible that the hedging language is not necessarily based on knowledge of the subject, but instead is based in concern for avoiding confrontation.