Gender differences in communication styles: The impact on the managerial work of a woman school principal

Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists (ANZCA) Conference, Power and Place. Wellington, July 2008

Tshilidzi Netshitangani

Communication is an important managerial function of school principals. Research indicates that women’s communication styles differ from those of men. This article supports and provides evidence for the claim that women and men use language differently. We live in a society in which there is substantial inequality and some of these inequalities are partly grounded in gender social relations and the construction of different gendered identities based on male-female dualism. A number of competing explanations for this situation and considerable controversy exist among different positions. Literature suggests that women display linguistic politeness and converse cooperatively, while men tend to organise their conversations competitively. The differences in the communication styles of women and men may cause misunderstandings in conversations. Due to other factors involved in communication, such as culture, class and age, as well as lack of knowledge about effective ways of communicating, miscommunication can occur not only in mixed gender talk but also in same-sex conversations. Consequently, managers should acquaint themselves with gender differences in communication to avoid miscommunication. Moreover, women educational managers in rural contexts in South Africa experience cultural barriers to communication as African women are not expected to talk much and should feign to know little in the presence of men. Using qualitative research methods, a single case study was conducted in Limpopo Province, South Africa, to explore the communication strategies of a woman principal. Findings indicate that the woman principal was a good communicator who overcame cultural barriers, often by practising what is not traditionally acceptable. Moreover, the woman principal’s communication was shaped by the context in which she functioned as a woman, a mother, a wife, an African, an educational manager and as an individual with her own unique personality. 



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