Duet vs Duel – a communication manifesto

by Apr 5, 2016

Why we need a gender based workplace communication manifesto

Workplace communication maniefesto Duet vs Duel

Workplace communication manifesto

Duet versus Duel

In recent months I have led workshops on gender miscommunication involving over 150 participants both men and women, In many areas, key thought leaders interested in gender balance solutions, are calling out for top down change in corporate culture. That is absolutely the right thing to do. But it’s going to take time.

Corporate cultures can take 3-5 years to change, going through the phases of deployment, acceptance and embracing that change. Or even longer.  Research from Bersin by Deloitte has told us that despite gender balance being a top CEO priority less than 1 in 3 executives knows what defines the culture of their company anyway. The World Economic Forum has indicated that organic change will two more generations.

The question is what to do in the meantime.

In the workshops we discussed what individuals can do differently to communicate more effectively. I then asked the groups to come up with one change they could make as individuals, that would improve communication in their workplaces.

I have combined  all comments to produce a communication manifesto for both men and women.

Gender stereotyping 101

7000 BC

But first it’s important to understand the roots of stereotypical gender based roles deep in our social history. In idiot guide brevity, “it all started going downhill for women around 7000 BC  when Paleolithic communities settled down to cultivate their food supplies, which pre-machinery, required upper body strength. The role of women became increasingly removed from the maintenance of the food supply and their efforts were focused on producing children to create a  labour force suited for this kind of work.  During the next 9000 years women were systematically silenced and relegated in all areas of wider activity: politics, religion, the economy and culturally.

This statement gets challenged citing matriarchal cultures, but these are very much in the minority.

The reality is that in a 21st century knowledge economy revenue generation (today’s connection to the food supply) can be carried out with the touch of an iPad.  Women are now in control of their reproductive systems and make up 50% of the workforce and in developed economies are 60% of graduates, outstripping men at every stage of the educational process. Yet our communication patterns and stereotyped expectations, still carry the residues of values that are hundreds, even thousands, of years old. They have little relevance in the 21st century.

The reality is that men and women have only been interacting on at least theoretical equal terms in the workplace, for about 46 years. That’s not long to overcome thousands of years of socialisation.

It’s no wonder everyone is confused


There was a lovely moment on the B.B.C  T.V. show The Voice U.K., where  the contestants are required to perform in a “Battle” to avoid elimination. Paloma Faith, the only female judge, said she didn’t like the format idea of a battle. She thought that contestants performed better when they were in a duet. That very nicely indicated her female preference on how to achieve success.He said she said

All participants in my workshops recognised some of the patterns listed by the world authority on gender miscommunication Deborah Tannen in her book “You just don’t understand.”

The process of Report/Rapport  or Duel vs Duet was very familiar to the women at least. Just as participants saw there was a growing need to establish communication preferences in today’s multi-media world, it was agreed that it was also important to become aware of the ways individuals preferred to communicate, and what makes them more comfortable. I sat recently and listened to two men talk over  and “out-inform”  each other. The women could barely get a word in edgeways. And this was a social situation.

Research from the Fawcett Society suggests that as many as 44%  of their survey, believe that both men and women have an expectation of gender blended, or gender bi-lingual behaviour from each other. It was also noted in my workshops that not all men and women slotted into stereotypical behaviours and that there was gender blowback when this happened.  Conflict avoiding men are frequently called “wimps” and assertive women “bitches.”

Communication Manifesto from the Men

Here is a list of the changes that the guys said they felt they could do differently in their every day dealings with the women colleagues or reports.

communication manifesto men

Communication manifesto men

Communication Manifesto from the Women

Here is a list of the changes that the women said they felt they could do differently in their every day dealings with the male colleagues or reports.

Communication Manifesto for women

Communication manifesto for women

The men and women had one major tip for each other:

  • Men’s tip  – “take ownership of your careers. You have to take care of yourself”

  • Women’s tip   “don’t make assumptions about us  – we are all different”

 What would you add?

If your organisation is interested in becoming gender bi-lingual – contact 3Plus now


Dorothy Dalton Administrator
Dorothy Dalton is CEO of 3Plus International. A specialist in diversity and bias conscious executive search, she supports organizations to achieve business success via gender balance, diversity and inclusion. She is CIPD qualified, and a certified coach and trainer including digital learning.
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