If you are a female, communication is likely second nature to you.
As a female, you communicate without even thinking about it. You use every faculty at your disposal to communicate and take great pleasure in doing so. You understand – without giving it your conscious attention – the complex interactions that can take place between body language, facial expression, tonal nuance, word choice, eye contact, and other particulars in your extensive toolkit of human communication skills.
As a male, you may prize directness at the expense of nuance, or confrontation over conciliation. You may find yourself getting frustrated with linguistic flourishes, and have little awareness of or patience for the need to “warm up” your audience or find “just the right words” before launching into a challenging topic.
The good news here is that these differences in communication skills and preferences are only to be expected once the unique genetic coding in the female and male brain is factored in.
Louann Brizendine, M.D., author of “The Female Brain” and its twin bestselling volume, “The Male Brain”, points out that while 99 percent of the genetic code in male and female brains is identical, there is approximately one percent that could not be more different. It is here that problems often arise in learning to communicate effectively and enjoyably with the opposite gender.
Since nearly all of past research into human brain structure, biology and function has been conducted on male brains, researchers’ understanding of female brain structure, usage, and genetic coding is more recent. As more of this information is obtained and shared, the genders can finally begin to mend shattered verbal fences and build satisfying communication bridges, and then turn around to pass along their hard-won knowledge to the next generation of men and women in turn.
In addition to basic communication skills, there are four things to know about communicating with the opposite gender that can be helpful under any conditions – in the workplace, in a friendship, in a romantic relationship, between family members, with peers or acquaintances, and even among total strangers.
Communication Basics But first, it can be helpful to review communication basics. These six essential skills can pave the way for successful communication whether gender differences are involved or not:
1. Remain calm: Speaking when you are angry or feeling any strong emotion risks the message getting lost in the expression of the emotion itself. If you want someone to really hear what you want to communicate, wait until you are feeling calm to speak. 2. Choose your words concisely and carefully: Everyone has had the experience of laughing over a choice bit of movie dialogue, or feeling tears well up from an especially moving literary turn of phrase. But while flowery language may do very well for artistic endeavors, in human-to-human communications, careful and concise language serves you best. If the communication is somewhat difficult or emotional, this rule is even more critical to follow. 3. Take your turn: While speaking your mind may not provide the resolution you are hoping for, it is a sure bet that not saying anything will deliver a less than satisfactory result. Whether someone else is hogging the conversation, or you simply feel too timid to speak up, be sure take your turn. It is yours – you deserve to speak every bit as much as anyone else. 4. Do not interrupt: Have you ever had a conversation with another person that was so one-sided that all you did was listen? And then at the end of the “conversation”, the other person announced that they enjoyed speaking with you so much that they hope to do it again soon? Everyone loves a good listener. Just as it is important for you to take your turn to speak, when your turn it is over, it is equally as important to listen attentively to what the other person has to share. 5. Try to stand in the other person’s shoes: While in most cases, women are more easily able to access and display empathy than men are, everyone has the ability to communicate in a way that conveys “we are in this together”. In sales, in service, between lovers and best friends, or even between two strangers, a genuine expression of mutual empathy is the communication trait that is most likely to pave the way to happy conversational results for both parties. 6. Know when to stay and when to walk away: Sometimes, and especially if the communication is particularly difficult, more than one conversation may be necessary to obtain resolution. Sometimes, no resolution will be possible. When entering into any communication, be aware that there is a time to stay and a time to walk away. If the conversation is becoming unproductive, it is often best to simply “pause” it and resume again when calmer waters have returned.
These six skills lay a firm foundation upon which to become a communications expert. As you practice and master each basic skill in its turn, you can then proceed forward and use this next set of four skills to build on what you are learning.
Gender Communications Because of the one percent of the brain that is different between the male and female brain, gender communications require the development of an additional skill set for optimal results.
Part of this skill set comes from a willingness to learn about the opposite gender’s genetic difference as the basis for a corresponding difference in communication style and preferences. The rest of the skill set comes from learning to communicate to play to the strengths of the other party, which may change depending on whether the conversation taking place is happening between a male and a female (inter-gender), two males or two females (both intra-gender).
These four skills can enhance your gender communications and provide for more enjoyable and satisfying conversations regardless of age or level of prior familiarity.
1. Pay attention to your word count and conversational speed: According to Dr. Brizendine’s research, females on average will use about 20,000 words per day, while males come in at a mere 7,000 words per day. In addition, females tend to speak faster than males on average. This means that if the communication is happening between a male and a female, some word count sensitivity and speed can smooth inter-gender communications. a. Helpful tips: Females, try to choose your words with care, and slow down when you speak them. When speaking with a male, use less words and a slower pace than you might normally choose in your intra-gender conversations and see if your communications results improve. Males, think about conversation as a three-phase process: “warm up”, “game time”, and “cool down”. Since your communications likely normally consist of “game time” words only, add in some “warm up” and “cool down” communications when talking with the opposite gender to smooth the path. 2. Balance listening with action: Because males have a more direct, “fix it” oriented brain, while women have a more well-developed ability to read subtle nuances into even the most casual statement, the ability to balance listening with action is critical to success in inter-gender communications. a. Helpful tips: Males, if you are unsure whether she is asking you to help her fix or solve a problem or if she simply needs you to listen, then ask her. It is respectful to ask what she needs from you, and this will also help you to feel more satisfied in the exchange as well. Females, if you feel frustrated that he doesn’t “talk to you” or “share” more, understand that for many males, no news means good news. If he isn’t talking, chances are he doesn’t have anything to say or he isn’t ready to say it. When he is ready to speak, he will. 3. Remember your inverse needs: For females, cuddling and intimate conversation can frequently meet their needs for physical connection. For males, however, there is a near-continual drive for physical consummation. Because these needs are hard-wired into the brains of females and males, respectively, being part of a couple means balancing these needs so that each partner feels they are getting their basic physical intimacy needs met. a. Helpful tips: Females, there are some very real physical discomforts for males that are associated with too infrequent consummation. And because males on average are less verbal, physical consummation forms an important communicative bridge that males crave. Also, the common phenomenon of males falling asleep right after consummation is more biological than environmental, according to Dr. Brizendine and other researchers. Males, she needs cuddling just as much as you need consummation. If you do tend to fall asleep immediately after consummation, be aware that you haven’t lost your opportunity to show her attention and to cuddle later on. 4. Respect different tolerances and preferences for conflict: One of the most important gender brain differences recently uncovered by Dr. Brizendine and other scientific researchers points to differences in tolerances and preferences for conflict versus congruence in interpersonal connection. Whereas males are often quite confident and comfortable with conflict, females often do whatever they can to avoid conflict. There are hormonal and biological reasons for these differences in preferences for conflict. The differences in large part relate to the different roles males and females take on when it comes to fostering family and community relationships and raising children and are hardwired into male and female brains, respectively. a. Helpful tips: Males, remember that most females do not enjoy nor seek out conflict or competition in their intimate personal relationships. Since there are often several ways to approach even the most difficult communications, whether in the work place or in the home, remember it can be helpful to “dial it down” when having an inter-gender conversation. Females, remember that males are not conflict-avoidant and are not biologically programmed to seek congruence in relationships and communications. Take a few steps back before overreacting to inter-gender communications that appear strongly worded or overtly conflict-oriented. Train yourself to take a few deep breaths before responding, and remember that as negative as conflict feels for females, it can feel equally and inversely positive for males.
“The Female Brain” and “The Male Brain” by Dr. Brizendine offer many more valuable insights into the mechanics of intra- and inter-gender communications. With these basic communication skills in hand, coupled with newfound understandings and knowledge about gender brain differences, scientists and researchers are paving the way for more productive and satisfying communications for both genders.
About the Author: Kimberly B. Krueger, MSW, LCSW is the Founder and Program Director for Southlake Counseling and Southlake Center for Self Discovery. She has dedicated her career to helping people of all ages “say yes to life” and overcome their life challenges with compassion, professional guidance, and caring support. Southlake Counseling offers the most comprehensive counseling services in the Southlake area with a focus on eating disorders, mood disorders, nutrition and fitness, wellness, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, addictions, equine therapy, and a full range of one-on-one and group therapeutic services. Learn more at www.southlakecounseling.com.