ROAD TO WELLNESS
Bridging the Gender Communication Gap
BY SIAN BITNERAhusband and wife come home from a long day at work and sit at the dinner table to discuss the day. When asked how his day was, the husband answers, “Pretty good, lots of meetings.” His wife responds in great detail, “Mine was horrible! First I spilled coffee all down the front of me, then I was 15 minutes late to my first meeting which then made me 15 minutes late to every other meeting. I had no time for lunch and was starving by 2 p.m., which lead me to binge on the candy that was sitting on my admin’s desk. I was stuck in traffic forever and the drive thru line to pick up din ner was ridiculous.” The husband stares at his wife like a deer in headlights, secretly wishing he hadn’t asked at all. The wife sits pouting in silence because not only did he share very lit tle with her, but also he didn’t even inquire as to whether or not she was alright now or if there was anything he could do to make her day better. Sound like a familiar conversation? There is an innate difference in the way men and women communicate. Though we are equals in our professional and personal lives, we are very different creatures. So different that linguists have coined a word to describe it: “genderlect.”
Genderlect is defined as a variety of a language that is tied not to geography or family background or to a role, but to a speaker’s sexual gender.
Conversational differences emerge during childhood, probably emulating the gender role models who surround us.
Girls speak with more emotion, describing how they feel and why they feel that way.
They are usually at the center of a hostile situation trying to make light of it and find a peaceful and fair solution. Boys tend to be more aggressive. They speak more with action than words and give direction instead of taking it. They are typically unconcerned with other peo ple’s affairs.
Most women reading this will agree that these differences do not change as we get older. Women tend to center even more of their conversations around emotions. They try to share every detail of a story and usually begin sentences with “I feel,” “I think” or “I wish.” They engage in conversation hoping for feedback or suggestions. Men, on the other hand, only give detail when it’s required of them. They are more apt to get to the point at hand. They have little need for sharing the particulars that led up to it and are often looking to end the conversation after they’ve made their point versus taking the time to hear what you think of the situation.
According to Suzette Haden Elign, author of Genderspeak: Men, Women, and the Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense, there are some steps you can take to better understand one another.
• Become aware of your own communication style: Each person has a unique style of communication. Listen to your own speech. Evaluate your words, your tone of voice and your body language. Compare your own communication style with that of individuals you judge to be effective communicators.
• Understand the communication style of the opposite sex: You might be unfamiliar with the unique communication style of the opposite sex. Listen carefully to the people around you. Make observations in their conversation. Discuss the conver sational differences at an appropriate time, not when conflict arises. Try to determine if your perceptions are accurate.
• Adjust to those conversational styles: Remember that commu nication is a learned behavior and behavior can be modified.
If you tend to lecture or “report-talk,” maybe you should work on better listening and discussing your feelings instead of just the facts. If you tend to speak in vague generalities, maybe you should work on more detail and specific informa tion in your conversation. If your indirect body language is confusing your verbal message, maybe you should conscious ly work on gestures that clarify and confirm your words. Both men and women should work on improving their communi cation.
• Alter your conversational style to fit the context: Effective com munication is adapted appropriately to fit the setting. Some comments are best made in private while others can be shared in public.
• Don’t assume that a member of the opposite sex understands your message: Just because the message is clear to you does not mean that it is clear to the listener. In fact, one of the biggest mistakes in communication is assumption. It is always best to explain the message thoroughly.
• Don’t criticize others who communicate in a different way: It’s a natural tendency to think that your way is the best way. Different conversational styles are not bad. Different is sim ply different. Accept the differences and adjust when needed.
Bridging the communication gap between men and women takes patience from both people and is usually a life long task. But while it will take work to break old habits and really begin to understand how the other person communi cates, that effort can be the difference between happily ever after and forever miserable in life.