April 2017

Bridging the Communication Gap between Men and Women

Author: Kent Thune

Men are from Mars and women are from Venus. This phrase is not just the title of a famous book. The fact that Mars and Venus are about 74 million miles away from each other also makes the planets a good reference for describing how wide the communication gap can be between men and women.

What makes the opposite sexes so far apart in this way? There are some basic differences that are inherent in the respective nature of men and women that make them poor communication partners. Fortunately, an understanding, acceptance and conscious awareness of these differences can improve our relationships (and the world) tremendously.

Let’s identify some of the important differences that we should be aware of to help improve communications with our other halves and make conversations more effective.

Men and women have different reasons for talking. Men believe communication should have a clear purpose. It’s kind of like shopping: He wants to walk into the store, get what he needs, and get out. When it comes to conversation, men believe there is a problem that needs to be solved. So just like the store, he wants to step in, fulfill his purpose, and get out. Communication is used as a tool to get to the root of the dilemma in the most efficient way possible. For men, there’s no talking just for talking’s sake.

Women use communication to discover how they are feeling and what it is they want to say. Again, the shopping example works: Women may not know quite what they want until they find it. And the act of shopping can be a wonderful bonding experience. Similarly, they see conversation as an act of searching for something they want.

To bridge the gap, men should patiently listen and resist the temptation to offer solutions. (And don’t look at your watch, mobile device, or anything else but her when she’s talking!) Women should let the man be the hero of the day and be thankful for his solution, even if there isn’t something that needs solving.

Since men prioritize productivity in their daily lives, conversation tends to be more on the brief side than that of women. By the time a man starts talking, he’s already thought through all the details and is ready to deliver the main point of the story. In fact, men often arrive at solutions in their minds so efficiently that they feel no need to share them. That’s why they tend to wonder why women talk so much. They’ll also make the mistake of cutting off a woman’s story in the interest of solving the problem quickly. Mistake! Men should do the opposite: Ask to hear more of the story, and when the time comes for you to talk, try to empathize and show her that you understand her feelings.

Men and women have different ways of listening. Men listen actively, which means action needs to be taken to make it meaningful. When they’re listening to a woman talk, they filter out details that are not necessary for solving a problem. According to World of Psychology Blog on PyschCentral.com, men want to know, “What can we actually do about this?” Being a passive and patient listener is not in the DNA of the man.

A woman sees conversation as meaningful in itself and communication need not be for a reason other than for sorting out feelings and as a means of intimacy with a friend or mate. Deep down, a woman wants to be cherished. So, when she feels she has been heard, any problem that may have existed begins to dissipate. Feeling cherished, women are better equipped to manage the challenges of life.

To bridge the gap, men should remember to listen only to understand; don’t listen to reply. Listen for the details and don’t slip away from the conversation while searching for a solution in the mind. Since you want to solve problems, remember you can do so simply by becoming a good listener! And women should be patient when men don’t quite get their feelings. Women, don’t be afraid to explicitly tell a man to listen. Don’t ever expect him to read your mind!

In Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, John Gray said, “When a man can listen to a woman’s feelings without getting angry and frustrated, he gives her a wonderful gift. He makes it safe for her to express herself…. The more she is able to express herself, the more she feels heard and understood, and the more she is able to give a man the loving trust, acceptance, appreciation, admiration, approval, and encouragement that he needs.”

Men and women have different needs when they’re stressed. Men will want to withdraw into their “cave” when feeling down. This cave can be the metaphorical one, which is to say he’ll turn silent, or he’ll want to go to a physical space where he can be alone to sort out his feelings. When women are upset, men will rush to tackle the problem quickly. A man wants to be a provider and a fireman. He wants to help his partner and put out fires with solutions.

When women are upset, they will use words to explore and express their challenging feelings. If someone is there to hear their feelings, share them, and understand them, they’ll feel loved and cherished and the difficulty or stress begins to dissolve.

To bridge the gap, women should give men their space and try to resist coming at them with nurturing questions and motherly concerns, at least not right away. Women shouldn’t feel rejected or unwanted when men try to escape the problem with a mini man cave vacation. And men need to remember, once again, that listening to understand and empathize is what women need in their times of difficulty. Give her the shoulder to cry on and the reassuring hug.

Men and women both have egos. To finish bridging the communication gap between men and women, both should learn to recognize and manage the ego. Having an ego is not a gender thing; it’s a human thing. And it’s not a good thing when it comes to communication! The human ego wants to be right and to prove the other person wrong. It is easily wounded and will fight with any tools it can find to defend itself.

Ego listens to respond, not to understand. So, when the ego rears its ugly head, learn how to recognize it. When you are aware of ego, you can silence it. You can think to yourself, “There’s my ego again. I won’t listen to it. Instead I will listen to my mate, my partner, and answer them with my authentic self, not with ego.”

Feelings are to be understood, and when we can understand them, we begin to understand each other. It is with this understanding that we are enabled to bridge the communication gap. 

Kent Thune practices his communication skills with his wife of 21, years, Angie. He also teaches entrepreneurship and business finance at Hilton Head Island High School and owns an investment advisory firm, Atlantic Capital Investments. You can follow his musings on mind, money and mastery of life at TheFinancialPhilosopher.com or on Twitter @ThinkersQuill.

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