It’s an age old dilemma; men and women communicate differently. From “Edith and Archie” (husband and wife duo from the 70's sitcom, All in the Family) to “Sammie and Ronne” (today’s reality “stars” from Jersey Shore), the way couples share information and relate to one another differs.
Do you remember the episode of Friends, where Rachel describes her first kiss with Ross to her gal pals? (If not, you can click this link to view: Friends). It's very different than the way Ross talks about the same kiss to his buddies. The funny scene hits a cord with most people because it's a "dead on" interpretation. Men talk to their buddies in a different language than women use with their female counterparts.
John Gray, PhD, wrote a best seller; Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, and Dale Farris summarized the book in his Editorial Review:
“Troubled or depressed, women "go down into their wells, and men retreat into their caves." Gray uses such examples to demonstrate the common conflicts between men and women. Topics include communication differences; emotional needs and the different ways of expressing these needs; and forming and maintaining relationships.”
Dr. Deborah Tannen wrote, You Just Don’t Understand, a book that explores the differences between men and women, from body language, facial expressions and speech. Tannen believes that childhood is where most of our communication skills are learned and boys and girls come from two very different subcultures. Some of her examples include that women use more hand gestures and sit relatively still during a discussion and men desire space and may tend to be withdrawn rather than engaged bodily. Based on her research, she asserted that men don’t use a lot of eye contact, smile less and control facial displays which are contrary to women. She also said men use more small talk while women speak in depth about a topic to form a connection or grow intimacy.
Men and women even differ with how they communicate through emails. Susan C. Herring is a researcher who did a study on this topic and her data reported that men’s use of aggressive expressions (in emails) outnumbered that used by females (12-5).
Is it any wonder that some couples complain about their partner speaking “another language” ?
Dr. Audrey Nelson works with organizations to increase their productivity and profitability through winning communication strategies. Nelson has many requested programs and one of them is called “He Speaks, She Speaks: What Different Things They Say”
In her article, Girl Talk: What’s the bottom line?, She reported:
“Women communicate a level of authenticity through the expressive variation of their vocal cues. They can demonstrate real sincerity, show their true feelings, and exhibit empathy in what they say. Women also talk to bond and connect, to fill up the empty space in order to make others feel more comfortable. Indeed, filling the silence can increase the comfort level for everyone, including the women themselves! If we don't have a good comfort level, we don't have good communication-our interactions become strained and forced. Women engage in "relationship talk" (classically called "chit-chat") to help them warm up and ease the conversation into an easy, spontaneous flow. Unfortunately, this doesn't always go over well with the men folk.”
Nelson refers to men reacting with a “Cut to the chase” attitude. She also reported that a woman’s use of the “tag question” can backfire.
“A tag question involves a seemingly declarative sentence that's punctuated with a question: "Linda, I need this report today, okay?" What makes these statements so distinctive is the rising pitch that accompanies the question at the end of the sentence, which actually negates the original demand.”
Nelson believes males have an advantage. In her article, “Poker Face: The Male Advantage:The clash of the non-verbals, She reported:
“There is greater latitude of acceptance for men to assume neutral facial expressions. We expect emotionless-ness from them. For women however, the opposite is true. Our expectation is that women should be the happy, which is reflected in the Smiley-Face Syndrome. Many miscommunications can occur because female and male facial expressive styles vary so profoundly. Although men might take on an air of neutrality, there is, in truth, no such thing as neutrality in communication. Women perceive blankness negatively. Men's masking of facial expressions causes uneasiness in women.”
So what are Barbie and GI Joe to do?
Dr. Sherrie Bourg Carter is a psychologist and an author who specializes in the area of women and stress. In her article, Is Your Communication Style Affecting Your Relationship for Better or for Worse?: Figuring Out if You and Your Partner Are Speaking the Same Language, she wrote:
"Differences don't need to mean that people who use different communication styles are forever doomed to conflict. In fact, it's often our differences that make us interesting, even attracted to another person. The keys to making differences work are understanding and flexibility.”
She suggests becoming aware of the communication style we use. Are we competitive or affiliative, direct or indirect? She also writes in her article:
“If you think different styles may be causing some tension in your relationship, you may want to consider taking a slightly different approach when communicating with your partner.”
Steven Stosney, Ph.D., treats people for anger and relationship problems. In his article, Marriage Problems: How Communication Techniques Can Make Them Worse: If marriage causes brain damage, we need new communication skills.”
“Problems in love relationships do not occur because people are too stupid to figure out common sense methods of communication or too brain-damaged by the experience of marriage to remember how they used to communicate. In fact, it's misleading to say that people in intimate relationships have communication problems at all, though it can feel that way to them in their frustration and sadness. It is more accurate to say that lovers in distressed and unhappy relationships have connection problems.
Communication in love relationships is a function of emotional connection. When people feel connected, they communicate fine, and when they feel disconnected they communicate poorly, regardless of their choice of words and communication techniques.”
He suggests forgetting the self-help books and communication techniques and choose to become connected again. In his article, he wrote:
“Think of times when you felt emotionally connected to your partner. Communication was not a chore that required techniques, strategies, precision timing, or careful word choice. You were interested in him or her. You put things awkwardly all the time, but it didn't matter, because you cared. Emotional connection is a mental state that begins with a resolve to show compassion and love. Early in your relationship you chose to feel connected, just as, if you're thinking about communication techniques now, you're choosing to feel disconnected.”
There’s an old proverb that says; “From listening comes wisdom and from speaking, repentance.”
Men and women will always be different so maybe the answer is using common sense: become more aware; make an effort to re-connect and become a better listener. Just a thought...