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He Said, She Said: Differentiating Male and Female Communication Styles

Two students asking each other about their lessons. / Photo by: dolgachov via 123RF

 

“Too often men and women see differences between each other and make each other wrong, rather than appreciating how they can benefit from those differences,” declares Simma Lieberman, a Diversity and Inclusion/Culture Change Consultant otherwise known as “The Inclusionist.”

What makes it so hard for men and women to understand each other, even when they may have the same cultural background? What makes their communication different and how do these differences affect their way of communication? What kind of barriers are they actually encountering in communication?

You can tell by these questions that it is not enough for both male and female to be able to speak in the same dialect to comprehend each other. One must understand that these genders have their own “gender language”.  

According to Kelly Meier, author of Gender Barriers to Communication, the misinterpretations between men and women’s communication styles are caused by “societal stereotypes, assumed gender roles, and interpersonal differences.”

Due to these barriers in communication, there arise conflicts, frustrations and broken relationships between the two genders.

This analysis aims to help in discerning the difference between male and female communication styles, as well as aid in knowing the approach to use when communicating with these genders.

 

Their Purpose

First, why do women and men communicate?

To explain this, when women talk about something, it is usually to be able to feel that they are supported. They are not usually asking for advice but rather for the person to listen and understand what they are going through. They just want to share what they are feeling and feel heard.

In connection with this, they also communicate to show empathy. According to Lieberman, women do this by sharing their experiences and asking questions.

Meanwhile, men communicate with the goal of solving a problem or reaching a final decision. Lieberman comments that men prefer to share information and would rather refrain from asking questions.

To note, women’s reason to communicate is often based on wanting to share their emotions, while men usually communicate based on wanting to share information.

To reinforce this statement, Livestrong.com cites what Barton Goldsmith, a psychotherapist said: “When a woman wants to talk, she wants to share emotions and thoughts, while a man generally shares ideas, suggestions, and facts and avoids talking about his feelings…”

Daniel Karell, writer of the article Gender Differences in Communication, offers an alternative explanation which emphasizes the differences in their goals.

He writes in Point Park University’s website, “For men, communication is a way to negotiate for power, seek wins, avoid failure and offer advice. For women… a way to get closer, seek understanding and find equality and symmetry.”

He also adds that most women communicate to build friendships and relationships, whereas men do it to maintain their status and independence.

A businesswoman showing her boss her proposal. / Photo by: ammentorp via 123RF

 

Time and Location

Second, when and where do they communicate more often?

Since women often communicate in order to build rapport, they are likely to be seen communicating more in social situations, Livestrong.com says. These social situations may include being at home and talking to someone over the phone.

As for the men, since they want to communicate with a clear purpose, such as coming to a decision or to find a solution to a problem, they are more likely to be seen communicating more at work.

However, according to an article Deborah Tannen wrote for Time Magazine, she argues that women do not talk less in meetings as a matter of choice.

In her article, The Truth About How Much Women Talk -- and Whether Men Listen, she writes, “It would be misleading to imply that women tend to talk less at meetings entirely by choice. Another reason [they don’t talk in meetings] is that they’re given the floor less often and, when they do get the floor, they get interrupted more.”

 

Tone

Moreover, women have more variations in their tone while talking, while men tend to sound more monotone.

According to Carol Goman who wrote Your Gender May Dictate How Effectively You Communicate, women have approximately five tones when talking, while men only have three. The higher the tone, she says, the more stressed they are.

Men, on the other hand, Goman notes, sound more confident when their voice is deeper. Their tendency to sound monotone is due to not having a wide vocal range, unlike women.

 

How They Listen

After explaining the variations of tones in men and women, let us proceed to what occurs when they listen.

A woman shows she is actively listening by nodding and using affirmative phrases in between conversations. According to Goman, nodding is also a woman’s form of encouragement to keep talking.

Men prefer to stay silent and focus on what the speaker is saying. They usually keep a straight face while listening. When they have gathered enough information to know what kind of advice to give, they are inclined to interrupt in order to suggest a solution.

 

Their Concept of Personal Space

Next, we will now move toward their concept of personal space.

In most situations, women tend to take as little space as possible. Goman elaborates that women do this by trying to always keep their elbows to their sides, crossing their legs tightly and arranging their things in small neat piles.

Tannen also demonstrates this by narrating, “When choosing a seat at a theater or on a plane, most of us will take a seat next to a woman, if we can, because we know from experience that women are more likely to draw their legs and arms in, less likely to claim the arm rest or splay out their legs, so their elbows and knees invade a neighbor’s space.”

On the other hand, men are inclined to occupy as much space as they can. Goman describes that they do this to signal dominant behaviors.

She describes that men signify status by standing tall or sprawling, sitting with legs wide open, spreading out their materials on a conference table and stretching their arms out at the back of their chair.

Furthermore, she states that men tend to expand while women condense.

She adds that because women are expected to have smaller postures, they tend to feel less powerful.

 

How They Connect

Moving on from the concept of personal space, men and women connect in very different ways.

According to Meier, a woman forms bonds to be able to establish relationships which they will use in working collaboratively later on. 

On the other hand, a man connects with others through working on similar tasks.

In addition, states that this is because men are task-oriented while women are relationship-oriented.

Lieberman simplifies this by saying, “Women get things done at work by building relationships. Men build relationships while they are working on tasks together.”

 

Their Way of Problem-solving

When a problem arises, especially in a relationship, women tend to want to discuss the problem, while men would rather keep it to themselves.

Meier explains, “Women are inclined to discuss conflict in an effort to preserve the relationship. Men tend to internalize conflict, discarding the effect it may have on the relationship.”

Furthermore, she states, “Women’s natural inclination to be empathic instead of analytical deepens the divide.”

Next, Lieberman discusses what it is like for men and women to have a disagreement among themselves.

She says that when women do not agree about something, this conflict may upset their friendship.

On the other hand, when men have a disagreement among themselves they just change the topic and drink.
 

How They Make Decisions as Leaders

After pointing out the way men and women solve their problems, let us now consider how they make decisions in their leadership roles.

Women come to a decision by asking everyone’s opinion or suggestion on an issue. After having everyone’s input on the matter, only then will she make a final verdict. This is what Lieberman calls the “consensus style.”

In contrast to this, she says that men prefer to take the “hierarchical style” of decision-making. This is a form of decision-making where the leader makes the final decision usually without asking what people think on the matter, except for the people closest to them.

According to Goman, women tend to think out loud when coming up with options, while men do not say anything until they actually have actually decided on an option.

 

Their Strong Communication Points

With all the reasons why men and women communicate differently stated above, we will now discuss what their communication strengths are.

Both communication styles have their advantages. As stated earlier, women are good at collaborative communication, while men’s communication is designed for quicker decision-making.

According to Goman’s research,  here are the strengths of women in communication:

* Easily read body language and non-verbal cues

* Good listening skills

* Able to demonstrate empathy effectively

In relation to this, here are men’s strengths in communicating:

* Authoritative posture

* Direct

* Able to demonstrate power effectively

 

Their Weak Communication Points

In order to look at their communication styles objectively, we must also examine the weaknesses they both have.

Still in accordance to Goman’s findings, here are the flaws in women’s communication style:

* Too emotional

* Indirect

* Submissive

 

In line with this, here are the errors of men’s communication style:

* Too frank

* Insensitive

* Overconfident in own opinion

 

Appreciating and Understanding Differences in Communication

Having seen both sides both genders’ communication styles, we must also take measures to be more perceptive to each other.

Combining Lieberman’s and Karell’s lists, here are ways in which we could lessen the barriers:

1. Stay aware

Know each other’s differences in verbal and non-verbal communication

2. Be aware

Put away preconceived biases and stereotypes and be careful about those that you may unconsciously have.

3. Recognize

Know that both leadership styles have their advantages.

4. Get information

Study about those style differences and if you can, be more flexible and adapt some from both.

Our distinguished styles of communicating exist for a reason. They exist so that we could both learn to respect, be more sensitive and be more tolerating towards each other. They also exist so that there could be diversity

In order to shut down these barriers and co-exist in harmony, both men and women must be aware of each other’s needs, recognize each other’s difference adapt and even sometimes learn to compromise.

Knowing this, it is vital that we realize that both empathy and rationality are needed in communication. For that balance, men and women’s way of communicating must be acknowledged. There is no right or wrong communication style, just different approaches in communicating.

To conclude, trying to change each other’s communication styles is ineffective. Instead, it would be better to appreciate and understand how diverse our gender languages are. Let us try to learn from both of them, use them as Lieberman advises, and look beyond the general stereotyping.

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