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He Said, She Said: Communicating With The Opposite Sex

By Emily Bermes

Communication in relationships comes up a lot in personal and professional coaching sessions. In their quests for a fulfilling, successful, accomplished, meaningful lives; my clients have to interact with the opposite sex - it's true. And in doing so, they often get smacked in the head with the differences in communicative style and focus of their opposite sex partner. Not knowing the most fundamental differences in masculine and feminine communication is like trying to speak American English in Ireland. A lot of information will translate; and quite a bit of it won't. So here are the basics. Take what's useful for your own professional development and self-improvement. These tips work at home and on the job.

In the most basic sense, men tend communicate by doing things and for the sake of accomplishing a task. They show affection through favors, solving problems, and physical gestures. They also expect to see a tangible outcome from a dialogue. They tend to give advice and share opinions as a gesture of affection... unfortunately women typically find this offensive.

Women, on the other hand, tend to communicate for the sake of social connection. They share thoughts and feelings; and see "bonding" as a sufficient and desirable outcome for communication. Women also tend to talk in a really elaborate, detailed verbal pattern. Unfortunately, this drives men nuts.

Married people, co-workers, and even opposite sex family members misunderstand each other - this is very common. In fact, "inability to communicate" is the number one reason cited for divorce. The good news is there are ways to improve the communication that takes place between men and women. Here are some simple tips.

  • Give your partner clues about what you need. Ask simply and directly for the listening and speaking behaviors you are wanting at that time. If you want quiet listening and support, but no advice, just say so. If you want a more succinct account of a situation, ask for it (gently).

  • Try to interpret your partner's communication via their learned rules and tendencies. Their behaviors will not translate correctly if you're using your rules to interpret them. Batman and Wonder Woman do not use the same decoder ring; neither should you.

  • Resist the temptation to criticize their communication. For a long time society (and even researchers) looked at feminine communication as "right" and masculine as "wrong." The truth is... they both work fine. Criticism will only deepen the divide.

  • Learn to be bi-lingual. Develop competencies in masculine and feminine communication styles, so that no matter who you talk to, and in what context, you can speak the language that works. Research proves the most successful people do.

Here are some other generalizations about the way men and women communicate (these are not blanket truths, just statistical tendencies)...

Men

  • Listen while doing something else, and provide advice and/or tactical support
  • Tend to prefer direct, succinct language that is not very detailed
  • Tend to be competitive
  • Men tend to need make up sex before they can 'talk about it'
  • Show affection by doing things for those they care about
  • Talk most comfortably while side by side, or while engaged in an activity
  • Focus on task needs of a situation

Women

  • Tend to listen by nodding, making noises that show they are interested, and by sympathizing
  • Tend to use elaborate, detailed language
  • Tend to be cooperative
  • Need to 'talk about it' before they want to have make up sex
  • Show affection verbally by sharing thoughts and feelings
  • Talk most comfortably while sitting face to face, doing nothing else that could interfere with the dialogue
  • Focus on the social or emotional needs of a situation

Continue learning to interpret your partner's communication, ask for what you want/need, and increase your competencies in each communication style. You can indeed bridge the gender gap.

Emily Bermes, MA, CPCC is a Certified Personal and Professional Coach whose articles appear regularly in popular magazines.

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