Scripts for Success: Communication Techniques to Break Through Gender Biased Workplaces
by Andrea S. Kramer and Alton B. Harris
What follows is Part Three of an edited version of a chapter from our forthcoming book, Scripts for Success: Communication Techniques to Break Through Gender Biased Workplaces. We would welcome your thoughts and comments as we prepare the book for publication.
Verbal and written language are obvious forms of communication, but so are gestures, facial expressions, posture, touch, preferred physical space, dress, attitudes and dispositions, displayed preferences, punctuality, performance expectations, standards of quality, task proficiencies, care for others, responsiveness, praise and criticism, and so on. Indeed, as we use the term “communication,” it includes every aspect of a woman’s interactions with other people, from the first impression she makes to her ability to influence, lead, inspire and motivate. Communication is the whole spectrum of observable human behavior. It includes “natural” tendencies and characteristics, but it also includes learned techniques for controlling the impressions a woman makes. We refer to these learned techniques as “attuned gender communication”; our short-hand phrase for a woman’s ability to control her communication so that she can play into, conflict with, or finesse gender stereotypes as and when she chooses.
There is certainly no guaranteed formula for career success, no silver bullet to “get there.” Too many qualities are demanded in too many circumstances for any given set of techniques to provide a definitive road map to the top. Nevertheless, we are confident that an ambitious woman will not find her career stalled because of gender biases if she is prepared to learn and use attuned gender communication.
Stereotypes and Impression Management
In a typical mixed-gender business situation such as we described earlier, a woman in the group will be affected by the prevailing stereotypes in direct proportion to how she communicates with, reads the reactions of, and adjusts her behavior in response to the communication of the other group participants. This is the heart of attuned gender communication: managing people’s responses to you by managing the impressions you make on them. Study after study has found that a woman who can consciously control the nature and content of her communication is in a far better position to overcome or defuse adverse gender stereotypes than a woman who cannot. Thus, the basic premise of attuned gender communication is quite straight forward: by managing the impression you make, you can manage the biases with which you are confronted.
The importance of a person managing the impressions she or he makes is hardly a new notion. Philosopher and historian David Hume eloquently made the point in the 1770s.
[A]n orator addresses himself to a particular audience, and must have a regard to their particular genius, interests, opinions, passions, and prejudices; otherwise he hopes in vain to govern their resolutions, and inflame their affections. Should they ever have entertained some prepossessions against him, however unreasonable, he must not overlook this disadvantage; but, before he enters upon the subject, must endeavour to conciliate their affection, and acquire their good graces.
If we substitute “woman in a business situation” for “orator” and modernize Hume’s language, we have the essence of attuned gender communication in two sentences.
“Impression management” has been a topic of serious scientific and academic study since at least 1959, when the sociologist and anthropologist Erving Goffman coined the phrase. Goffman studied the ways in which people adjust their communication to influence the impressions they make on others. Many subsequent researchers have expanded on Goffman’s work. In 1972, the social psychologist Mark Snyder developed a 25 question Self-Monitoring Scale to measure the extent to which people observe and control their expressive behavior and self-presentation. This test was updated to an 18 question test in 1986 with the collaboration of Steven W. Gangestad. Richard D. Lennox and Raymond N. Wolfe published a third Self-Monitoring Scale in 1984. All three of these tests are designed to distinguish people who are “high self-monitors” from those who are “low self-monitors” based on the extent to which a person “strategically cultivate[s] public appearances.” While there is disagreement over which of these scales is the most useful and accurate, for our purposes, that debate is irrelevant, for there is no disagreement over the fact that people who are good at self-monitoring are more successful at career advancement than those who are not. And women who are effective self-monitors manage gender bias far better than women who are not.
High self-monitors key off of cues from others’ communication to regulate their own communication. Low self-monitors “are controlled from within by their affective states and attitudes.” Low self-monitors “lack either the ability or the motivation to so regulate their expressive self-presentations.” High self-monitors are “highly responsive to social and interpersonal cues of situationally appropriate performances.” In a social situation, high self-monitors ask: “Who does this situation want me to be and how can I be that person?” Low self-monitors ask: “Who am I and how can I be me in this situation?” Low self-monitors behave as though, “I am who I am, and that is whom I will always be.”
Stay tuned for Part Four of this article…
This article originally appeared in the WBAI Winter 2015 Newsletter.
Andrea S. Kramer is a Partner in the international law firm of McDermott Will & Emery LLP, resident in its Chicago office.
Alton B. Harris is a Partner in the law firm of Nixon Peabody, resident in its Chicago office.
 David Hume, “Of the Standard of Taste,” The Philosophical Works of David Hume: Including All the Essays and Exhibiting the More Important Alterations and Corrections in the Successive Editions Pub. By the Author, in Four Volumes, Volume 3, Boston, Little, Brown and Company (1909-14).
 Erving Goffman, Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, Doubleday Anchor Books, New York (1959).
 Mark Snyder, Self-Monitoring of Expressive Behavior, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 30, 1974, pp. 526-537.
 Mark Snyder and Steven W. Gangestad, On the Nature of Self-Monitoring, Matters of Assessment, Matters of Validity, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51(1), 1986, 125-139.
 Richard D. Lennox and Raymond N. Wolfe, Revision of the Self-Monitoring Scale, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 46(6), June 1984, pp. 1349‑1364.
 Steven Gangestad and Mark Snyder, Self-Monitoring: Appraisal and Reappraisal, Psychological Bulletin, 126(4), 2000, pp. 530-555, p. 530.
 Mark Snyder, Self-Monitoring Processes, 89 (1979), in L. Berkowitz (ed.), Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, Vol. 12: pp. 85-128, New York, Academic Press. See also Martin Kilduff and David V. Day, Do Chameleons Get Ahead? The Effects of Self-Monitoring on Managerial Careers, The Management Journal, 47(4), Aug. 1994, p. 1048.
 Snyder and Gangestad, supra note 7, at p. 125.
 Snyder, supra note 10, at p. 1048.