Communication can be challenging. The sender doesn’t always send a message the way it was intended and the receiver doesn’t always receive it correctly either. On top of the normal challenges we experience with our communication, there is also the added component of gender communication differences, which can complicate the situation. Many couples do not consider what role gender plays in their communication differences and the significant impact gender has on the frustration and difficulties we experience in our everyday male/female interactions, marital or otherwise.
If we begin to consider that male and female brains are structured and wired differently, then we can begin to understand that we process and gather information very differently, too. Once we come to this realization and understanding, the strategies we begin to implement to communicate with the opposite gender begin to feel easier and less complicated overall. We may even find that these differences can be complementary.Without promoting gender stereotypes, it may be helpful to understand trends in gender communication differences. As rudimentary as it may sound, some of these differences may relate back to the roles of our ancestors, where males were predominately responsible for hunting and females responsible for gathering.How does this play out in communication? Males can tend to “hunt” for the answer, objective, result, outcome or solution, while females “gather” up the details, feelings, information, subtleties, and emotions at hand.In an article on Gender Communication by Amanda Svecz, she highlights that “the male communication pattern and traits tend to be honest, direct, and factual,” much like a “report” style of communicating, whereas female communication traits “tend to be nurturing, indirect, and respectful.” She likens this to “rapport” style communicating. There is a big difference between “report” style and “rapport” style.In Deborah Tannen’s study on gender communication differences, she points out that women tend to utilize communication more as a way to connect and support a sense of closeness in the relationship, where men see communication more as a way to accomplish objectives. Knowing this helps us understand how to adapt our expectations when engaging in male/female conversations and consequently may help us avoid disappointment or frustration when communicating with the opposite gender. Knowing this may also help us learn strategies for entering into conversations and help guide our communication with the opposite sex.
Some of these differences can be linked to our biology and some are linked to traits influenced by environmental factors — i.e., nature vs. nurture. While female brains are structurally more compact than male brains, they are shown to be more densely packed with neurons, particularly in the region responsible for language. Females also have language functions evenly distributed between both left and right hemispheres of the brain, while in males, language function is more concentrated predominately in the left hemisphere. This biological difference can play a role in the way we process language and how we collect information about what is being said.
As a psychotherapist specializing in women’s issues, I often hear women complain that their partners want to “fix it” when they’re upset, when what a woman is sometimes looking for in that heightened place of an emotional reaction is simply validation, emotional support and confirmation that someone “hears” them. In the moment of heightened emotional response, women don’t want to review a pro- and con list or hear a possible list of solutions to the problem. They tend to need a feeling of empathy and closeness when they’re upset and are later able to return to a problem to “fix it” when the emotionality of the situation has lessened.
On the flip side, males may feel a great sense of satisfaction in finding concrete concise solutions to a problem and may feel frustrated with a female’s emphasis on reflection and validation when what they’re searching for is an answer.There are ways we can improve our gender communication. Keep in mind these strategies recommended by Julia Wood’s research on gender communication and culture: Suspend judgment and don’t rush to a conclusion; recognize the validity of gender communication differences; provide translational cues to help the opposite gender “translate” your communication into a way that makes sense to them, and enlarge your own communication style to include traits from the style of the opposite gender.It is possible with time and a dedication to understanding, that the differences in our communication patterns that sometimes feel like barriers can become complementary features of our male/female relationships.