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How Men and Women Use Power and Influence In the Workplace

Within cross-functional teams of people representing different departments, positions and even cultures, a leader’s success often depends on his or her ability to gain the cooperation and support of others. Research by our colleagues has shown some influencing styles vary across cultures, but we wanted to know if gender differences might also play a role in using power and influence in the workplace.

To answer this question, a study was conducted using a 360 degree feedback questionnaire to gather data on the influencing styles of 223 leaders (116 men and 107 women) across organizations and industries.

While we found some significant differences, we also found some surprising similarities.

Here’s a summary of what we found and how your leaders can use them to maximize their influence.

Differences Between Genders

Of the four most effective influence tactics – reasoning, inspiring, consulting and collaborating – men and women use reasoning and collaborating to the same extent.

These findings might be somewhat surprising if you believe the stereotype that men lead with a more task-oriented focus and women with a more interpersonal approach. For those particular tactics, both men and women tend to do it the same.

There are, however, some significant differences regarding the two other core tactics – inspiring and consulting. Women tend to use inspiring more frequently than men, especially with colleagues and direct reports. Women also use consulting more frequently than men with bosses and with their direct reports.

Here are some other important findings from our research:

– Women use apprising (explaining how carrying out a request or supporting a proposal will benefit the other person or advance their career) significantly more with direct reports compared to men.
– Men use apprising- helping someone understand the benefit to them personally – more than women when influencing their bosses
– Men could benefit from using consulting more often with their direct reports, especially when they have authority to make a change but need others to help them implement it. However, women may be using this influencing style too often with their bosses.
– Women use recognizing (using praise or flattery) significantly more than men when influencing their colleagues and direct reports
– Women use legitimizing (establishing the legitimacy of a request and verifying they have the authority to make it) significantly more than men when influencing colleagues. This may indicate they are more likely to feel their authority is being challenged.

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