She adds: “The gender differences in influence tactics outlined in the second school of thought imply that male managers are more assertive and authoritative when trying to influence others, while women tend to influence by means of consulting and inspiring.”
Merchant says the research is not conclusive, but notes that many studies show that communication styles differ with who is doing the talking, but also whom they are talking to.
“When trying to influence someone of their same gender, leaders tend to use ‘softer’ influence tactics; conversely, leaders are known to use ‘harder’ influence tactics when they are trying to influence someone of the opposite sex,” Merchant wrote. “Overall, these gender differences across influence tactics help explain why gender differences in leadership styles exist, as one’s ability to influence his/her followers is a primary goal of any leader.”
Why Didn’t God Make Me a Man?
Nicole Unice, a teaching elder at Hope Church in Richmond, Virginia, said she is part of a church staff that is primarily men. In a poignant blog post about discovering her calling to be a pastor, she began with the question, “If God wanted me to be a pastor, why didn’t he make me a man?” Eventually she concludes: “If God made me with these gifts and also made me a woman, He was the one who would work it out. And He did.”
“I definitely notice differences between men and women and the way they communicate and relate to others,” she said. Unice is typically direct and forthright, but she’s found that she tends to get push-back from male coworkers who perceive a direct statement as aggressive, even if she uses a soft tone of voice.
She finds herself looking for ways to soften what she says, while still stating the truth. “I hear myself saying in a meeting, ‘Now, this is just an idea, I’d love to know what you think about this . . .’ But if I am too direct, I don’t get heard.”
However, a lot depends on your leadership setting. Tracey Bianchi, the worship and teaching pastor at Christ Church Oak Brook, near Chicago, says she feels great freedom to speak her mind.
“Being collaborative is our default mode, our gut instinct,” she says of women. “But that’s okay, I think we are more likely to disarm tension by being collaborative. However, I do think if a woman leads with a caveat, saying things like ‘This is just an idea, I could be wrong’ that it can be easier for guys to shut her down. Women need to own their ideas.”