5 Major Communication Problems Women in the Workplace Face – and How to Overcome Them

5 Major Communication Problems Women in the Workplace Face – and How to Overcome Them

Here are five solutions to build confidence, own your successes, and establish your worth in the workplace.

Problem #1: Not advocating for yourself
Solution: Acknowledge your success. “I worked really hard to make this happen!”

There’s a time and a place for humility – and the workplace is often not it.

If you played a major part in a project, own it! As easy as it is to deflect credit to others and chalk it up to team effort, it’s not bragging when you’re taking objective credit for your own work.

Instead of shrugging off accolades (e.g., “It was nothing” or “I wish I could have done more”), acknowledge your success with a direct, “I worked really hard to make this happen.”

Try not to sell yourself short when giving due credit, either. Something along the line of “I’m so grateful for all the team support on this project,” plus special shoutouts where applicable, are always appropriate.

Knowing your worth and sharing it with your boss and team is crucial – after all, your unique value and skill-set are why you were hired in the first place! Advocating for yourself is the first step to boosting your sense of self.

Instead of shrugging off accolades (e.g., “It was nothing” or “I wish I could have done more”), acknowledge your success with a direct, “I worked really hard to make this happen.”

Problem #2: Saying “sorry” too much
Solution: Banish the ‘s’ word from your vocabulary!

In any workplace, chances are you’ll hear your female co-workers (or even yourself) drop the “s” word without thinking.

And while there are some things worth apologizing for – like, say, if you spill coffee on your colleague – other times, it’s a knee-jerk reaction.

“Practice finding a way to take the spotlight off you, and onto the other person. Try showing gratitude instead,” recommends Julia Baum, a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in Brooklyn, New York.

Let the situation determine your delivery. Here are Baum’s tips for what to say instead of “sorry”:

  • When you're a little late: "Thank you so much for your patience."

  • When you've made an error: "Thanks for calling that to my attention, I'll correct it today and send an update."

  • When you receive constructive criticism: "I appreciate your feedback."

  • To give constructive criticism: "I'd like to share some feedback with you, let's find a time to talk."

  • To offer empathy: "It sounds like that was hard for you."

  • To make a suggestion: "I'd like to offer a different take on this."

  • To say no: "As much as I want to chat, I need to finish this presentation first. How about we talk over lunch?"

“You may have gotten into the habit of throwing ‘sorry’ around when there's no infraction at all,” points out Baum.

How often are you punctuating your communication with “sorry” – do you say things like "I'm sorry, can you close the door?" or, "I'm sorry, can I get a tall latte?" The result, says Baum, is it seems like you're apologizing for just existing.

Work to change that habit by omitting the word “sorry,” and speaking directly. Try: "Would you please close the door?” and "I'll have a grande half-caf soy chestnut praline latte with no whip and extra topping, please." Practice until it comes naturally.

Problem #3: Using body language that isn’t confident
Solution: Stand tall with your back straight, and shoulders back!

Large meetings can be daunting – and so can one-on-ones with your boss. If you’re too nervous in those situations to speak up, use empowering body language instead. Think body language that expands, not shrinks!

For large meetings, make sure you’re standing or sitting up straight. Slouching is a common symptom of social anxiety, so if you want to appear less anxious, maintain a confident, upright posture.  Avoid fidgeting as much as possible. Nervous movements can be distracting – so if you do speak up in a meeting, avoid drawing attention from what you’re saying.

For smaller meetings, make sure you maintain eye contact! This nonverbal cue is critical for communicating confidence.

Don’t feel comfortable maintaining eye contact? One trick – credited to Dale Carnegie – is to look at the other person’s eyes just long enough to register what color their irises are.  

To boost your confidence, try power poses right before the meeting, like standing with your legs shoulder-wide, and placing your hands on your waist. You can even try this in the bathroom stall before entering the meeting!

Feeling anxious when in a meeting? Try these simple mindfulness skills to manage anxiety, like holding a cool bottle of water, in your hand and allowing the precipitation to cool your hands.

To boost your confidence, try power poses right before the meeting, like standing with your legs shoulder-wide and placing your hands on your waist.

Problem #4: Not knowing how to ask for what you want
Solution: Come to the table confident – and prepared

Whether it’s a raise, time off for vacation, or a quick coffee break, recognizing your right to having what you want is the first step in getting it.  

“You may not get it just by asking, but you'll increase the odds tremendously by making a well-considered request,” says Baum.

Remember, your boss isn’t a mind reader. “Most of the time people don't know what you want even if it seems like common sense. People are much more wrapped up in what they want than other people’s desires.”

For example, if you want to ask for a raise, do your homework. “When making a request, do your research and come into the conversation with knowledge of how much you're worth to the company and why, and what you're legally entitled to (a lunch break is a right, not a privilege, in most but not all cases).

You'll never get a guarantee in advance that your ask will be granted, but if you recognize upfront that you'll be okay either way, that can help give you the confidence to take the risk and go after what you want.”

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Problem #5: Placing disproportionate blame on yourself
Solution: Accept that everyone makes mistakes – and forgive yourself

The biggest communication problem you face may just be with your inner critic.

“The truth is, while it's desirable to minimize mistakes, no one is immune from them,” continues Baum. “Don't beat yourself up when you slip. Strive to think flexibly and fully accept yourself, mistakes and all, and that will make the job a lot easier.”

So the next time you miss the mark at work, don’t jump straight to self-blame.

“Acknowledge your mistakes without beating yourself up so you can address the problem constructively and move forward. To falter with grace is often seen as a strength. It's called resilience; which is an asset in any position, in every industry.”

With these five communication tips under your belt, you’re on your way to boss status. Talking with a therapist, coach, or career counselor trained in work and career related challenges can help you manage work stress, reduce performance-related anxiety, and reach new levels of work success.  

Check out Zencare.co to find a career coach who can help you through your communication problems at work. Check therapists’ availability, watch their introductory videos, and book free initial calls to find the right fit for you!


Rebecca Keiser is a freelance writer focusing on topics such as travel, career, and mental health. She enjoys live music, dogs, and noticing the small, but significant, things in the seemingly mundane.