Men and women have different communication styles. Conventional wisdom says that men are considered direct speakers, while women are often thought of as indirect speakers. But to describe women and their speaking style as “indirect” is barely cracking the surface. I think it’s more accurate to say that women are storytellers. And what I mean by that is women are honest, authentic narrators of her life and her experiences.
I recently made this realization while observing focus groups of women and then of men. During the discussions, the moderator asked both groups the same questions. What I heard from the men were concise replies that summed up their views in a few words. However, when listening to the women’s replies, it took longer for me to have that “aha” moment and truly “get” what she was telling us. Women give answers within the context of their lives, so what I was hearing were more detailed, relevant recollections of the women’s memories, experiences, and impressions. They weren’t just answering the moderator’s questions – they were sharing a little about their lives and point-of-view. They were revealing the framework of her experiences, what she thinks about a product (and sometimes what her best friend thinks too), and often coming up with solutions to certain issues they have identified. After many of the women left the discussion room that day, I felt like I knew her friends, her family, her life.
Recognizing this difference begs the question: Are storytelling participants good or bad for consumer research? For the kind of work we do at OYM, I consider this a true gold mine! I admit that it requires more effort to be a good listener in order to “hear” what she is saying and distill the story into relevant (and concise) findings. But having access to the rich details of her life can be extremely valuable if you take the time to listen.