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Dysfunctional Communication


 Explanations > Gender > Dysfunctional Communication

Dismissing | Retaliation | Patronizing | Exclusion | Undermining | See also


In her book 'They Don't Get It, do they?', Kathleen Reardon describes how men damage women's confidence, often in the workplace. She calls these 'Dysfunctional Communication Patterns', or 'DCP's. Here are the basic patterns plus some thoughts about how women can respond.


This is where men ignore, interrupt or talk over women. It says 'you are unimportant' and 'I, as a man, am superior'. Men also do this to other men in their particular game of hierarchy and dominance.

A simple response is to smile and say sweetly, 'I'm sorry, can I finish?' If necessary, touch them gently on the arm. A woman can disarm a man quickly by calling on his chivalrous nature. To refuse such a request would paint him as a cad and few will decline.

Another approach is to approach the man offline, where you can be more assertive. Describe the behavior and how it makes you feel. Maybe also indicate how it makes him look.


Sometimes men act toward one woman as if she is a combination of all the women who have ever slighted him, from his mother onwards. Men who have been unlucky in love can become like this (and maybe it is why they have been unlucky in love). This behavior is likely to more openly rude and aggressive.

Depending on the situation and your preferences, you can respond directly, commenting on his rudeness and rebutting what is likely to be a weak argument. You can also raise your eyebrows and look at other men, who may come to your rescue. Other women are also likely to support you, although this may depend on how they have been affected by the bully.

In the workplace, this may also offer a case for formal complaint. If you take this route, be careful to follow the rules.


Men who patronize women frame them internally in 'women's roles' such as a 'housewife' or daughter, and talk to them as if they are inferior, stupid or both. Men who cannot see a woman as a colleague or an equal human will casually flirt or trivialize in sometimes shocking ways.

An angry response can shock them out of this, although it may also dig you deeper into the 'emotional incompetent' frame. A better approach is often to do something that the 'little woman' would not do, such as out-arguing him with cold logic.


One of the problems of a mostly-male environment is that women can get excluded as meetings and decisions get made without consulting or involving them. This can take subtle forms, such as meeting after work when you have to go home to manage the family. A typical sign of exclusion thinking is when a man says something to another man then turns and apologizes to the woman.

A way of getting around this is to sniff around to find out where exclusive meetings are happening (for example online calendars may be openly visible) and then just turning up. You may also be able to get yourself into a gatekeeper or veto position where you are able to block decisions that are not made without consulting you.


Men will sometimes undermine women, either individually or as a whole group. A single word or just a raised eyebrow can be terribly destructive and very depressing. Comments may even seem positive, such as offering supportive thoughts about other family duties (with the implication that, you poor thing, you can never give your all to your employer, like men can).

This can be very subtle and very difficult to counter. Making verbal comment may easily make things worse. You may want to discuss this with other women to see if they are having similar experiences. Getting advice from outside the team may also help, such as consulting your local HR specialist.

See also


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