I’m glad of the opportunity to take our previous conversation about gender and communication dynamics from six months ago a little further.
Rather than a “how to,” I think of this more as a “be with”… By that I mean working to understand the social dynamics at play as well as the unconscious gender attitudes and orientations we carry. In doing so, we can understand the subtext that can get in the way of our attempts at bridging gender gaps when communicating. I feel that the more we understand what’s going on beneath the words, the more we can get a feel for how to navigate the obstacles and work with each other to find understanding.
I offer my thoughts with a caveat because I feel that once one begins the “men are like this… women are like that” conversation, we run the danger of stepping into the Mars-Venus trap. We’re all from Earth… and far more alike than different.
Just as our gender is socially constructed, it can be reconstructed throughout our lives. It’s very easy to stereotype and classify, but we live in an age of tremendous range and variety in personal awareness and behavioral norms. To assume either gender is only one way is, at best, an oversimplification.
As I explained at our last meeting, we’re all on a gender spectrum, which has a great many variations in its internal and external applications.
Please take what follows as food for thought and information to deepen our conversation.
Gender Communication Differences and Strategies
Following are some common ways in which masculine and feminine approaches differ.
Attitude toward tasks vs. relationships
Women tend to be more relationship-oriented and accomplish tasks by building relationships first. They then know whom to ask and are comfortable asking others to get things done.
Men tend to be more task-oriented and go straight to the task. They build their relationships when they’re in the process of the task or project.
Way of processing information
When women have to make a decision, they often process and look at options out loud while men tend to process internally until they come up with a solution.
Women often think that the man is being unresponsive to suggestions because of this. Men often think that women are looking for approval when they process out loud or don’t know what they’re doing.
Some men think that a woman’s way of processing is a sign of weakness.
Because women are more relationship-oriented, they tend to lead by consensus.
Men tend to be more hierarchical and include only the people closest to them at their level in the decision-making process when they think it’s necessary.
In nonverbal behavior, women nod their heads to show that they are listening. Men leave the conversation thinking that a head nod means agreement and are surprised to find out the woman didn’t agree at all.
When a woman is speaking to a man, and he doesn’t say anything and stays in neutral body language to show that he’s listening, a woman will often interpret that as the man being bored or not understanding what she’s saying. This can lead the woman to become very uncomfortable and repeat what she’s saying or ask the man each time if he understands what she’s saying. The man interprets that as insecurity or talking too much, which leads him to think that she’s not assertive or confident enough to be a leader.
Women actually use more direct eye contact in conversation to create relationship and connection while many men take that as a challenge to their power or position.
Women approach a man from the front while men often approach from the side, at an angle, which is how each of them tends to stand or sit when talking to others.
Men interpret standing or sitting face to face as too personal or aggressive. Women interpret the talking side to side as though he’s not being upfront or even hiding something from her.
Men take up more time and space at meetings while women try to make sure there is more equality in the room.
Despite stereotypes to the contrary, studies have shown that men talk more than women.
All of this can lead to the type of miscommunication based on assumptions of why members of the other sex are using certain verbal and nonverbal behaviors.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Steve Siler is a psychotherapist with 20 years of experience, who teaches psychology classes at the local branch of Mendocino College. He has lived on the coast for 40 years, and he developed and ran the Mendocino Community High School, an alternative high school, for 20 years. Steve is also a theatrical producer and director.
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