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New book can help female attorneys improve communication skills

Image“Um, I don’t know if this is a good idea, but I thought we could…”

“This probably sounds stupid, but I thought one way we could handle this…”

If you’re prone to beginning your presentations at office meetings in either way, chances are you’re female.

So wrote Claire Damken Brown and Audrey Nelson, co-authors of a new book geared for women in business, “Code Switching: How to Talk So Men Will Listen.”

The title refers to a linguistics term, and it means having knowledge of two cultures or languages and readily swapping between them, depending on the situation, to best communicate your message.

Damken Brown and Nelson, who both hold PhDs in gender communications, stress they’re not attempting to re-make women into men, nor do they bash men, per se. Rather, they want women to be “consciously mixing it up using both male and female communication styles to produce an overall androgynous, synergistic approach.”

As previously noted, the book is geared toward success in the office — it’s not particular to the legal world (which explains why it’s available for about $12 plus shipping at Amazon.com, instead of costing about five times that much from a legal publisher). But there are numerous parallels to be made; when you’re speaking to impress a point upon a male boss, you want to use a similar approach with a male judge at a pretrial conference.

Maybe you already knew this, but you don’t want to use the two approaches mentioned at the beginning of this review.

Both are “qualifiers embedded with disclaimers.” The “qualifier” part refers to a common linguistic pattern for women (and, sadly, children): They tend to use “attention beginnings” to bait the listener, such as, “You’re not going to believe this….” The “disclaimer” is the apology or excuse made immediately afterward, that women often throw in to distance themselves from the point they’re about to make.

It diminishes the speaker’s credibility, and it’s ridiculously common. This reviewer pleads guilty.

Another pattern the authors identify: Men value brevity. Think of Joe Friday’s catchphrase, “Just the facts, ma’am,” when women told their life stories.

The authors suggest adopting a pyramid style when answering a question. Answer with a yes or no, or a one-sentence explanation. This is the top of the pyramid. Then think about everything you’d like to say, and cut it in half. That’s the middle. Then stop. If the listener wants more detail, the base of the pyramid, he’ll ask for it. He probably won’t.

There’s also the whole realm of nonverbal communication. Women generally use less space than men, and give up their space more readily than men, as a function of learned social behavior, power and gender roles, according to the authors.

Check it out the next time you’re in a meeting. Who has their belongings spread far and wide in front of them? Damken Brown and Nelson suggest making your own play for power by taking up lots of space at the table, too, and sitting without crossing your arms and legs.

To some, their conclusions and advice are just common sense. Or, possibly they’ve already read “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus.”

Perhaps I knew this all on an intuitive level — because I’m female, I have more of that than the average male. The authors touch on that, too.

Still, it’s affirming to see it all in print, backed by scholarly data, yet written in an accessible, entertaining tone and accompanied with practical pointers on how to handle a wide variety of workplace situations.

Are you exactly where you want to be, career-wise? If so, don’t bother buying this book.

But, if you’re like the rest of us, who aren’t at the pinnacle just yet — or if you simply find the topic of the differences between the sexes as fascinating as I do — go ahead and invest the $12.

The authors offer to participate in any book club (my guess is, book clubs are largely a female thing, too) or discussions of 10 or more via speakerphone.

When was the last time you saw that promise at a book’s conclusion?

Amazon.com Link

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