Seminar gives students tips on workplace communication

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UTEP professors Richard Pineda and Stacey Sowards

UTEP professors Richard Pineda and Stacey Sowards

EL PASO — Men are from Mars and women are from Venus, but they have to work together in the same universe. University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) Communication professors Stacy Sowards and Richard Pineda told a large audience of students how they can do that effectively by understanding different communication situations that come up in the workplace.

The seminar entitled “Men and Women Working: Gender Communication in the Workplace,” hosted by the Future Leaders of Public Relations (FLPR) at Summit Hall in the Miner Village recently, covered verbal and nonverbal communication between men and women, language issues and even salary negotiations. “Why is it important to understand different issues between men and women in the workplace?” was the opening question that Pineda asked the audience to help set the tone and direction for the seminar.

Legal issues were covered first, in particular Title VII, which Pineda and Sowards stressed exists to protect people from in the workplace. According to human resource and employee law website HRhero.com, Title VII is a “federal law that prohibits most workplace harassment and discrimination, covers all private employers, state and local governments, and educational institutions with 15 or more employees.”

The website says that this law, in addition to prohibiting discrimination against workers because of race, color, national origin, religion, and sex, also provides additional protections “to include barring against discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, sex stereotyping, and sexual harassment of employees.”

Sowards said that different verbal and nonverbal patterns that men and women use in the workplace affect communication.  Men use verbal communication as a way to solve problems, she said, but women will use verbal communication because they need to talk or vent about an issue. “Women use verbal communication as way to make connections,” she said.

Men are more likely to tell jokes and stories in verbal communication, she said, but women use it to make more connections. Pineda, who is her husband, is a storyteller, she said, “How many of you had heard Dr. Pineda’s story about ‘Turduckin,’” said Sowards. As the audience laughed and nodded in agreement she said, “I’m a horrible storyteller.”

She also said that nonverbal communication patterns distinguish the sexes.  Men tend to speak in a low-pitched voice, use eye contact to express assertiveness, use territoriality to express power, and they are not usually judged on their appearance. Women, however, tend to use a higher pitched voice, use eye contact to express relationship, use smiling and emotions as a way to connect, and are often judge harshly for their clothes and physical appearance.

The appropriate use of language in the workplace was another subject that Pineda and Sowards touched on. “What you do or say in the office subconsciously [music, pictures, etc.], can affect the people you work with,” said Pineda. “Language tends to be very gendered and is tied to the way a professional organization works.”

Perception is especially important in the workplace. Here on the border, Pineda said, where the Hispanic culture is most dominant, “it is not unusual to see people give the traditional side hugs or cheek to cheek kisses. This is cultural, especially in El Paso, but this may not be acceptable in other cultural environments.”

To help people adjust to new workplace environments Pineda advised the audience to observe “self-disclosure” because by “recognizing the context of what you are saying” you find that “not a lot of people or places will be comfortable with the amount of self-disclosure you give.”

One topic that was addressed that every working professional will face sooner or later is that of salary negotiations. Sowards said that because “women will not negotiate salaries as often men do, women are often paid less in the work place in comparable industries (women earn about 62 cents to every $1 that men earn).”

The Equal Pay Act of 1963, which prohibits unequal pay for equal or “substantially equal” work performed by men and women was enacted in part because women tend to make less in the workplace and also tend to negotiate salary less than men. “Figure out what’s your worth, which is important when renegotiating your salary,” said Sowards.

Both, Sowards and Pineda, agreed that although humor is a good way to diffuse an uncomfortable or inappropriate situation, it is also important to remember to maintain a professional image in any workplace. “Just because other people use profanity doesn’t mean that you have too,” said Sowards,  “You don’t have to remove yourself from the conversation, but you should try to move it in a different direction.”

Pineda concluded the seminar with this advice: “Checking yourself and what you say before you say it and while the conversation is taking place [is extremely important]because its too late to take it back after the conversation is over.”

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