He Says/She Says: The Truth About Gender Communication
Although life would be simpler if we all spoke the same language, that’s certainly not the case. Not only do many of us speak completely different languages based on our culture, but we also speak different languages based on our gender. Let me say upfront that neither style is better than the other, they’re just different.
Our brains are different in both structure and chemistry. Did you know that women have 11% more neurons in their brains for emotion, feelings and communication? In fact, according to research done on how biology influences behavior by author Louann Brizendine, MD, when it comes to emotion and communication, “women have an eight-lane superhighway, whereas men have a country road.”
Males inferior parietal lobule that rules visual and spatial skills is larger than females. Males space devoted to the sex drive is 2 1/2 times larger than females. Dr. Brizendine says that when it comes to sex, “men have an international airport and women have an airport nearby that lands small and private planes.” When I told my husband this, he added, “Yeah, and yours has a sign that says “Runway Closed!” Okay, back to business.
One of the major differences in how men and women communicate is that men use language to report, and women use language to build rapport. Another way to say it is that men prefer the headline, and women prefer the story. That’s why men usually favor succinct phrases and talk about things such as sports, politics and business. Women, on the other hand, use language to connect and so enjoy talking about people and feelings. They enjoy sharing all the details, and often save what they consider to be the best for last. Herein lays the challenge.
For example, let’s say a male supervisor asks a female employee to report on the upcoming event she is planning. Being female (and remember there are exceptions to every rule and piece of research), she starts at the top of her list sharing every detail accomplished to date. About a third of the way through her boss cuts her off and says, “Okay, well let me know if you need any support.” She didn’t even get to finish and may feel slighted. If you’re a female, here’s what I suggest you do in order to avoid future misunderstandings and frustrations.
Deliver the important information up front – say it in a sentence. For example, “The event is on budget, on time and I’m meeting with the caterers later today. Would you like to hear more about any particular item?” By summarizing up front, your male boss gets the information he is looking for. By asking a follow-up question, you leave the door open for sharing more information should he have the need or interest.
Let’s say you just returned from a staff meeting he was unable to attend. “How did the meeting go?” he asks. This is not the time to jump into a blow-by-blow description of every agenda item and discussion. Rather choose the most important issue and say, “The team decided to move forward on the IT Project for marketing by the end of the week. We discussed a few minor details I’d be happy to share with you when you have the time.” Again, this allows him to get back to work or invite you in to go over other points.
The latest research from The University of Texas-Austin shows that men and women talk about the same amount in a day — it’s just that their styles differ. Guys, what can you do to communicate more effectively with women? When communicating, be careful to avoid using a tone that sounds curt or abrupt. Keep in mind that sharing information beyond the basics is a way to build rapport and create connection. I once heard the advice to think “discuss” versus “tell” when speaking to women.
By being flexible with our own style of communication, we’re more likely to be heard, respected and understood by others. And it won’t matter if they’re traveling down a freeway or a country road.