Chapter 1.
Communication and Gender

“Even if they grow up in the same neighborhood, on the same block, or in the same house, girls and boys grow up in different worlds of words.”

In the beginning God created” (Gen 1:1). He created the heavens and earth, land and sea, day and night, sun and moon, birds and fish. Then he created male and female. Since man and woman were created by God in the beginning, it seems right to begin this book with a discussion of gender and communication.

“So God created man in His own image; He created him in the image of God; He created them male and female” (Gen 1:27). From the beginning, God created mankind, both male and female, in his own image. Equal in worth and value, men and women are different in role and function. Men and women are different biologically and emotionally; different in nature and personality; different in assignments and responsibilities. Scientists continue to determine that the brains of men and women function differently, that women think and problem solve in different ways and for different reasons than men.

Since communication is a unique human behavior, it can be assumed that gender differences impact an individual’s communication style. Differences do not imply superiority or inferiority; instead, differences reflect God’s unique design for the genders to complement or complete each other. Men and women differ in the way they think, feel, act, and talk. Some of the most striking differences between the sexes are the unique ways that men and women interact verbally. In this chapter, we will explore some of these gender communication differences.

Gender

In recent years, the communication styles of men and women have been studied scientifically, and linguists have documented perceived differences. The primary purpose of these intensive investigations is not to determine which communicative style is best or to motivate others to change completely, but to identify differences for the purpose of understanding and adaptation. As men and women better recognize differences in communicative styles, they can work to improve their own communication with members of the opposite sex.

Deborah Tannen, professor of linguistics, was one of the first to document in professional and popular writing a discussion of gender communication. In her book, You Just Don’t Understand, Tannen reported striking differences in the way that boys and girls, as well as men and women, communicate. After studying male and female communication patterns, she concluded that men and women have different conversational styles and that both styles are equally valid. Since there are gender differences in ways of speaking, we need to identify and understand them.

Differences in gender communication begin in early childhood. Tannen found this to be apparent in conversation as early as three years of age. As language is being developed, little girls talk to be liked; little boys often talk to boast. Little girls make requests; little boys make demands. Little girls talk more indirectly; little boys talk directly. It seems that little boys communicate more with actions, while little girls use words. Little boys prolong verbal conflict, while little girls tend to diffuse conflict.

According to Tannen, “Even if they grow up in the same neighborhood, on the same block, or in the same house, girls and boys actually grow up in different worlds of words.” Children learn to communicate from parents and peers, often imitating their same-sex models. Language and communication are considered learned behaviors that develop through a combination of nature and nurture, genetic predisposition, and environmental stimulation. As a result, communication differences between boys and girls are expected and emerge early in childhood. Boys and girls both want to get their messages across and use language differently in order to do so.

It is very important in life and ministry to understand the different ways that males and females communicate. Speech is often the basis for a person’s first impression. Judgments about a person may be made dependent upon communication style and pattern alone. Men often judge women based on male conversational style and vice versa. Miscommunication between men and women is common and can be very challenging because men and women expect different responses from each other. These communication differences are noted during same-gender and opposite-gender conversations as well as during one-on-one and small-group interactions. Parents, spouses, coworkers, neighbors, ministers, and church members need to be aware of differences in gender communication.

One example of major miscommunication took place in the garden of Eden between Adam and Eve (see Genesis 3). Disaster occurred as Eve entered into a conversation with a serpent while Adam said nothing. What resonated in Adam’s mind? Did Eve expect a response? Perhaps during this interaction, there was miscommunication and uncertainty of each other’s responses producing a terribly wrong perception.

Communication affects all relationships involving male-female verbal interaction. Relationships can suffer if the differences are not understood. Gender communication impacts relationships between father and daughter, mother and son, husband and wife, employer and employee, and pastor and member. In vocational or business settings, men and women may be at the same level of employment, but they communicate differently. On church committees, men and women communicate differently. A balance is needed between men and women who are serving together if they are to communicate effectively. Gender differences will never change; therefore, we must understand unique communication styles.

Genderlect

Tannen, in her study of gender communication, coined the term genderlect to acknowledge that the conversation styles of men and women are not right or wrong, superior or inferior; they are just different. Genderlect is “a variety of speech or conversational style used by a particular gender.” The term is based on two root words: gender and dialect. Gender refers to the male and female sexes. Dialect refers to the unique language of people in a specific area. Thus, genderlect refers to the language of the sexes. Communication between men and women can literally be considered cross-cultural communication.

Suzette Haden Elgin described genderlect as “a variety of a language that is not tied to geography or to family background or to a role, but to the speaker’s sexual gender.” She suggested communication techniques to combat gender style differences in her book entitled Genderspeak. John Gray, a relationship psychologist, wrote a book entitled Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, implying that men and women are so different that one might conclude they are from different planets. Men and women speak entirely different languages.

Before exploring the characteristics of gender communication, several assumptions must be accepted. First, men and women have different conversational styles. Evidence supports this assumption and this book will accept it. Second, both male and female communication styles are valid. Strengths and weaknesses are inherent in the patterns of both genders. Third, the goal in gender communication is not to change the style of communication but to adapt to the differences. The discussion is not about right or wrong but about differences. Understanding and adaptation are important to effective communication between the genders.

Studies by Tannen and others have revealed a number of distinctives in the ways that men and women communicate. While these are generalizations, they apply to most men and most women. Men and women do seem to express themselves in different ways and for different reasons. Here is a summary of the most apparent gender communication distinctions.

1. Men use communication to maintain status; women to maintain intimacy. Men typically talk for the purpose of establishing their own credibility. They talk about their positions, accomplishments, work activities, and sporting events in order to demonstrate they are “king of the mountain.” On the other hand, women talk to connect with other people and build relationships. They talk most about family and friends in order to develop closeness in conversation. Men are most often introduced by their title or occupation, while women are usually introduced based on their marital status, personal relationships, or family background.

As a little girl, I (Monica) remember sitting beside my grandfather, whom I affectionately called “Paw Paw Bill,” in church every Sunday on the second pew. He was known as a man of few words. Although he did not say a lot, I knew it thrilled him for me to sit beside him in church. I will never forget the warm, big smile that would appear on his face as I walked toward him. His expression alone made me feel so loved and special. When he did speak, he would ask me how school was going or how I liked voice lessons. I would always reply back with long responses that often led away from the subject entirely and centered around more personal things going on in my life. At times, I would wait for a response back from him, but he would simply nod his head and grin. I began to think he just really enjoyed hearing his granddaughter talk. Although my grandfather would ask me about things I considered impersonal (school or work), I always remember feeling closer to him after our conversations. Why? Because women form connections through conversations!

2. Men offer solutions to problems; women complain about problems. While women often want to talk about their problems to receive empathy and understanding, men are naturally problem solvers. Men rise to the challenge of resolving a problem while women find relief in discussing it.

I (Rhonda) experience this communication difference in my marriage relationship. I love being busy, involved in a variety of activities. Of course, life often gets intense and I get tired. When I comment to my husband that I am weary, he immediately begins to point out the things I have been doing that I could quit doing. He wants to fix my problem of fatigue by solving my problem of over-activity. I just want to talk about it and get a little sympathy because I do not plan to stop any of my activities. I have learned to call my mother who always has a listening ear!

This tendency in men and women can cause a lot of conflict if we fail to see it as a gender difference in how we communicate. So often, when I (Monica) am going through a difficult time or have an important decision to make, I need to think it through before I am ready to form a conclusion. I lived off campus with my younger brother, Jeremy, for one year while I was in college. It is a wonder we did not end up killing one another! I would come home to the place we were renting just needing to talk. Now, you probably can imagine how much joy this would give my brother. He really had no choice in listening to me, but he always wanted to offer a solution to the problem and still does to this day. Often his advice was really good, but I was not ready to take action, as my brother would strongly suggest, to make a certain problem go away. I just wanted to verbalize my thoughts.

3. Men give information; women give affirmation. Men tend to talk only when they have something to say. Women love to talk even when they have nothing to say because it helps them stay connected. The content of male conversation is typically facts and figures, while women fill their conversations with praise and encouragement. Men fill their word count with nouns, while women fill theirs with adjectives and adverbs.

Conversations with my parents demonstrate this gender communication difference. When I (Rhonda) talk with my mother by telephone, she tells me every single detail of her day, often repeating them for emphasis. She may tell me goodbye six or seven times as she thinks of more things to say. When I talk with my dad, he often ends the conversation abruptly in the middle of a sentence because he has finished talking. These differences always give me a laugh.

I (Monica) love giving lots of detail about any given subject. My husband has joked with me concerning how many adjectives and adverbs I use to describe my day. I have even made up words to describe what I want to say! When we go home at the end of our teaching day, I am ready to discuss all the events of the day while my husband would prefer to listen to the evening news. Our compromise is to share news about our day during dinner while recording the news to watch after dinner.

4. Men report-talk; women rapport-talk. Because men talk to give information, it sounds like they are giving a verbal report. They list facts and figures as they move to the bottom line. Women talk to build relationships and give affirmation, so they “rapport-talk.” They talk to establish connections and negotiate relationships.

Communication in church business meetings often demonstrates this difference. While men provide the quantitative information, women often offer stories about the ministries. When presenting our women’s ministry budget to our church committee, I (Rhonda) found myself enthusiastically talking about the life changes in our Bible study and the evangelistic impact of our mission project when it dawned on me that the men just wanted to know how much money we needed for the budget next year.

I (Monica) have seen this difference many times in my relationship with my husband. When we were first married, my husband and I would talk about many aspects of each Sunday’s church service: the worship, the message, and the people with whom we had conversations. I would ask my husband who he talked to after church and I wanted a report on how they were doing. On one occasion, he looked at me and said, “Well, we were having a conversation about motorcycles, so I really do not know how he is doing.” I wondered how my husband could enter into a conversation with someone and remain unaware of how they felt. Now I understand better that this reflects a gender difference in how we communicate. When I enter into conversations with others (even complete strangers), I work to build a connection with a person in the hope that I might possibly help or encourage them.

5. Men lecture; women listen. Since men give information and report-talk, their speech sometimes sounds like a lecture. Men typically speak with confidence and passion, so their conversation may sound dogmatic. Women, who give affirmation and rapport-talk, usually listen in order to maintain that relationship. They listen not only to the words being spoken but to the way they are spoken.

My dad was a well-known evangelist as I (Rhonda) was growing up. When he returned home, Dad talked with us as if he were preaching a sermon. My sister and I would often joke about his same song, second verse approach. We would pretend to push the play button on the tape recorder as Dad preached to us in conversation that often sounded like a lecture.

My husband and I (Monica) are both professors. Many times when my husband is talking to me about something he read in an article or watched on the news, it sounds as if he is teaching in a classroom and not talking to me as his wife. On occasion, just to be funny, I will raise my hand as he is talking and say, “Professor, may I ask you something?” While we both laugh, we are reminded how challenging it is for him not to be in “lecture mode.”

6. Men use conflict to negotiate status; women avoid conflict to establish connection. Men are much more comfortable dealing with conflict than are women. For men, conflict allows an opportunity to win and assume a higher status. For women, conflict might interfere with connection and harm a relationship. Men can engage in a heated discussion which is quickly forgotten, while women often experience hurt feelings when there is difference or discord.

I (Monica) hate conflict of any kind. On many occasions, I have seen that my husband, father, grandfather, or brothers do not mind it. I remember my mother becoming so uptight with the way my father was driving when I was a little girl. However, my father had a valid explanation. On one occasion, he was in the passing lane and got behind an extremely slow-moving vehicle. Instead of keeping a reasonable distance, he followed the vehicle closely until the driver moved over into the other lane. I thought my mother was going to have a heart attack. I will never forget her words, “Honey, what if that is a church member?” My mother was definitely more concerned with maintaining relationships with the people in the congregation where my father served as pastor than with teaching a person a lesson on the road. My father would say that he felt it necessary to show them they needed to pull over into the slower lane.

7. Men interrupt; women overlap. The notion that women talk too much and interrupt men has been contradicted in research about gender communication. During conversation, men frequently interrupt to insert a comment or reestablish status. Women, on the other hand, often overlap. Two or more women can talk at once without a perception of interruption or a violation of rights. Women are comfortable talking at the same time, while men interrupt to become the speaker.

Several years ago, I (Rhonda) was invited to speak for a women’s conference at a church where my friend’s husband was pastor. Susan and Bill picked me up at the airport and immediately we girls began talking. I moved to the middle of the backseat so I could look at Susan while talking with her. As we spoke enthusiastically, I could see Bill’s face in the rearview mirror. He was driving and kept trying to open his mouth to get a word into our conversation. I finally said, “Just jump right in if you want to talk!” Susan and I were overlapping, but Bill could not bring himself to interupt us.

Recently, I (Monica) hosted a baby shower for one of my dear friends. We had a houseful of joyful and excited women. My husband decided to stay home in our finished basement. During the shower, he came upstairs for a brief moment. I remember looking at the expression on his face which seemed to scream, “This is not the place for me.” The many conversations going on at once seemed like chaos to him. Meanwhile, we women were enjoying our conversations immensely.

8. Men talk more in public; women talk more in private. There is an assumption that women talk more than men. Men are typically the source of this statement of fact! Study after study has demonstrated that men and women use approximately the same number of words per day. However, men use most of their words in public and women use most of their words in private. While husbands use their words at work, wives save their words for their husbands when they get home.

My husband and I (Monica) naturally share about our days when we are having dinner or after our little girl falls asleep. On one occasion, I could tell my husband’s day had been very long and exhausting. I suggested we find an interesting movie on television so we could relax. With relief, he shared with me that his throat was sore because he had been on the phone all day talking to people: he did not have the energy to have another long conversation. I started laughing inside at the thought of how women can talk for hours and not think twice about it. In fact, a lot of women become energized from their conversations and rarely reach a point where they feel too tired to communicate!

9. Men talk more about their accomplishments; women are hesitant to boast. In general, men do not have a problem bragging about their achievements. It is a natural part of maintaining status. However, women do not boast because they do not want to harm relationships by asserting themselves as better.

In several different group settings, my (Rhonda) husband has enthusiastically described his amazing interception during the last play of the last football game of his senior year of high school and his game-winning touchdown like they occurred yesterday. He is so very proud of his defensive play! While I was head cheerleader and won first place in our cheerleading competition during my own senior year, I rarely share that with others. As a woman, I have that innate desire to build relationships and not elevate my own accomplishments.

I (Monica) am reminded of a friend in college who was an excellent athlete. He wanted to share his accomplishments with others. At first, he came across to me as being very proud, but then I realized that he felt comfortable sharing about sports and deep inside he was longing for affirmation. There were things he vocalized that I would never have said simply because I would not want anyone to feel inferior or jealous. As a woman, I consider the feelings and emotions of others with the words I choose.

10. Men use silence; women avoid silence. Men seem very comfortable remaining silent in the company of others. Women assume that silence implies anger, boredom, or hurt feelings. In their research, Tannen and her colleagues found little boys could be in the same room with each other and never speak a word. However, little girls immediately began talking. Silence may be golden to men, but silence is often uncomfortable for women.

I (Rhonda) have learned in my marriage that my husband loves silence. When we get in the car for a road trip, I immediately think that I have him to myself and we can talk without interruptions. Chuck looks forward to road trips for a different reason. He is eager for silence, for time to himself that excludes conversation. Early in our marriage, this difference hurt my feelings, but I have learned to adapt. Now, I enjoy my naps in the car while he enjoys his thinking.

My (Monica) father is a very passionate preacher of the gospel. He does not hold back from proclaiming the truth when he delivers the Word of God. I grew up with my father as my pastor, and I had the privilege of being under solid teaching since my birth. The majority of people in the congregation would always assume that my father’s personality was extroverted and bold; however, he is a true introvert at heart. On many occasions, when my parents would host a get-together for the church family at our home, my father would seem very low-key. My mother is more of a social butterfly and an extrovert. At times, people would ask if anything was wrong with my father because he had such a different temperament than when behind the pulpit. My father would politely explain that nothing was wrong, that he was simply relaxing and enjoying their company. While exercising his spiritual gift of preaching, confidence would emerge, but his true personality is more relaxed.

11. Men speak with confidence; women often apologize. Rarely do men hesitate when they speak. They typically speak with confidence because they only speak when they have something to say. However, women can be very hesitant as they speak, often apologizing even when they know they are right. They frequently say “I’m sorry” to express sympathy and concern though it is perceived as lack of confidence. Carol Kent titled her public speaking book, Speak Up with Confidence. She encourages other women to communicate more effectively and to speak confidently without apology.

This particular gender communication difference was illustrated to me (Rhonda) when I was in a seminary administrative meeting about the design of a new building on campus. Our interior designer suggested a particular shade of green for the carpet, when one administrator confidently informed us that “there are thirty-two different shades of green in Ireland.” Interested, I asked him how he knew that fact. A little bit stunned by the challenge, he responded, “Well, I do not know that there are exactly thirty-two, but there are a lot of different greens in Ireland.” He spoke with such confidence though he did not have facts.

On many occasions, I (Monica) have found myself apologizing simply because I am more concerned about a relationship or hurt feelings than with the actual topic of discussion. Men often can become so engrossed in the subject matter that they tend to lose sight of the feelings of others. Early in our marriage, my husband and I were having a discussion about politics. He spoke so firmly that I thought for sure he was very upset. Although the conversation was just between the two of us and I agreed with what he was saying, I began to apologize for bringing up the topic that frustrated him so severely. He immediately responded by saying he was not upset at all but was simply stating the facts.

12. Men use body language indirectly; women use body language very directly. While talking, girls and women often sit close to each other, look at each other directly, and may even touch. Boys and men typically sit at angles to each other, are less likely to look at each other while talking, and rarely touch or stand closely during conversation.

During college, I (Rhonda) recognized the difference in the way men and women use body language when the leader of one of our student organizations stepped back when I began to talk with him. I noticed this same reaction when others spoke to him, too. One day I mentioned it to him, and John said he was uncomfortable when people violated his body space. Stepping back was his way of saying that he was uncomfortable with direct body language or close proximity. I have not had the same experience with women through the years.

When I (Monica) have conversations with women, one-on-one or in a group, I like to be close enough to see their expressions. Body language is another way women feel connected. I remember my mother as well as other older ladies in our church coming up and putting their arms around me when I was a teen, asking how they could pray for me specifically. As my mother would put her arm around me and begin to pray, I felt a warmth come over me. I felt like I could share with her all of the struggles I was experiencing.

The different ways that men and women view the world impact their communication styles. Communication, and especially genderlect, is a continual balancing act between independence and intimacy. These language differences are challenging but also bring balance between men and women according to God’s divine design.

Gender Communication Differences
Men use communication to ... Women use communication to ...
maintain status maintain intimacy
offer solutions to problems complain about problems
give information give affirmation
report-talk rapport-talk
lecture listen
use conflict to negotiate status avoid conflict to establish connection
interrupt overlap
talk more in public talk more in private
talk more about their accomplishments talk, remaining hesitant to boast
use silence avoid silence
speak with confidence speak, often apologizing
use body language indirectly use body language very directly

Judith Tingley found that men and women express gender communication differences in content, style, and structure. Content refers to what men and women talk about. Men often talk about sports, money, and business; women most often discuss people, feelings, and relationships. Style refers to why men and women talk. Men often express themselves to give specific information, converse for competition, and talk to resolve problems. Women most often express themselves to promote understanding, converse to support, and talk to connect. Structure refers to how men and women talk. Men typically use precise words that are to the point without descriptive details. Women use more detailed descriptions, apologetic tones, and vague generalizations. While these characteristics may be generalizations, they have been found to be true consistently when communication patterns of men and women are studied.

Genderflex

Communication between those speaking different languages requires translation and adaptation. When men and women communicate, their primary languages require some understanding and consideration. Tingley has described this necessary process of adaptation as “genderflex.” In the book by the same name, genderflex is defined as an active process: “to temporarily use communication behavior typical of the other gender in order to increase potential for influence.” Because of the natural way men and women communicate, temporary adaption to a different style of communication is necessary when talking with someone of the opposite gender. The primary goal of this adjustment is effective communication with members of the opposite sex.

Genderflex is necessary in life and ministry. Researchers have concluded that in mixed groups women make more adjustments in communication than men. Women tend to talk about topics of more interest to men when both genders are present. They also adjust their style and structure more easily in order to be understood and appreciated. These studies demonstrate that male-female conversations are more like men’s conversations than they are like women’s.

In the context of the Christian community, several strategies for improving gender communication can be employed:

Content, Style, and Structure in Gender Communication
Men Women
Content
(What do they talk about?)
  • sports
  • money
  • business
  • people
  • feelings
  • relationships
Style
(Why do they talk?)
  • give specific information
  • converse for competition
  • talk to resolve problems
  • promote understanding
  • converse to support
  • talk to connect
Structure
(How do they talk?)
  • precise words
  • to the point
  • without descriptive details
  • detailed descriptions
  • apologetic tones
  • vague generalizations

1. Become aware of your own communication style. Each person has a unique style of communication. Listen to your own speech. Evaluate your words, your tone of voice, and your body language. Compare your own communication style with that of individuals whom you judge to be effective communicators. Self-evaluation is an important first step in improving communication between genders.

My (Monica) husband has helped me realize that at times when I am speaking to him, I tend to talk really fast. Also, I might begin a conversation with him while I am doing other things such as cleaning or cooking, leading him to say, “Honey, remember I am not in the same room as you are. I cannot hear you.” Other times, he has asked me to repeat something because I was talking so fast. I must admit when I get excited, I can talk at a rapid pace! I began to realize that this often would frustrate him, so I have learned to speak less rapidly and with more focus—even though I may be excited and eager to share something with him. I simply cannot have a long conversation with my husband while I am in the kitchen and he is in our living room!

2. Understand the communication style of the opposite sex. Become familiar with the unique communication style of the other gender. Listen carefully to your father, your husband, your son, your brothers, and your male friends. Make observations about their conversation. What do they say? How do they say it? When do they speak? Why do they speak? Discuss these conversational differences with them at an appropriate time, not when conflict arises. Try to determine if your perceptions are accurate. Then you are ready to make some changes in order to communicate more effectively with the opposite sex.

My (Monica) husband and I recently experienced the joy of welcoming our first baby. I was thankful that we were able to share the first week together as we entered into this new phase of life. We had opportunities to share with one another freely because he was right there with me. When my husband left for work, I would observe a wide array of new experiences with our precious baby girl. I just could not wait for him to arrive home so I could share with him. Some days my husband would come home late due to the demands at work. I would be so ready and eager to begin our conversations, but I could tell he was ready to just sit down and relax. At first, it made my heart sad because I had so looked forward to communicating with him and really felt I needed to talk. I even wondered if my husband cared about sharing with me. I wanted him to have time to relax, but at the same time I could not wait to enter into conversation. He asked me if something was wrong when I reluctantly suggested he just sit down and relax. When I asked him if something was wrong, he began to laugh. Nothing was wrong at all. He simply was gathering his thoughts before we communicated. I realized yet again how different men and women are. I also understood that it was not that my husband did not care, but he definitely needed some time to regroup. He also became more aware of the need I had to share about the day and how I felt more connected to him when we communicated with one another. Although communication is vital in any relationship, it is important to be able to discern when it is most effective and best received.

3. Adjust to different conversational styles. While it may seem difficult to change the way you communicate since you have been talking that way for so long, remember that communication is a learned behavior. Behaviors can be changed. Communication styles can be modified. Both men and women should work on improving their communication and should continue to do so throughout their lifetimes.

Discernment is very important when it comes to speaking with those who have different conversational styles. I (Monica) remember one occasion when my brother, Brady, and I were having lunch together with a lot of other people after church one Sunday. There were so many conversations going on at once! My brother was speaking to me about a particular subject, and then two women began to enter into dialogue with me by asking me different questions at the same time. I felt compelled to juggle all three conversations. I remember looking at my brother, saying, “I’m sorry. I will come back to you in just a second.” I spoke very quickly with no thought to his feelings. I later apologized because I felt I came across in a way that was very rude, although I had simply tried to have a conversation with everyone at once. I will never forget my brother’s response: “That’s okay, sis. It was not as much what you said but how you said it.” I felt so horrible and apologized again. My conversational style had not taken his into account. I had come across as rude. I needed improvement.

4. Alter your conversational style to fit the context. Effective communication is adapted appropriately to fit the setting. Some comments are best made in private while others can be shared in public. Some conversations are more appropriate in a casual setting than in a formal one. Some statements are fit for a group of people while others should be made only when talking one-on-one. The context dictates the conversational style.

This is especially true when you are speaking with women. As women, we often tend to share about extremely personal things. Some of the topics we discuss are definitely more appropriate one-on-one and in private than they are in a public setting. Women can become hurt if things are said in public that they had wished would have stayed in private. I (Monica) have seen many instances at women’s conferences when someone will get up in front of a group to discuss prayer requests. Personal issues often become gossip, and many women can get their feelings hurt. We need to be very careful to fit our conversations with the contexts.

5. Do not assume that the opposite sex understands your message. Even when you believe your message has been clearly communicated, it is dangerous to assume that the listener understands—especially if the listener is a male. Just because it is clear to you does not mean that it is clear to others. In fact, one of the biggest mistakes in communication is assumption. It is always better to explain the message thoroughly than run the risk of being misunderstood. Special effort should be taken to clarify the meaning across genders.

Women are often misunderstood simply because we have a tendency to assume that the opposite gender understands what we mean even if we do not fully vocalize it. I (Monica) have seen this numerous times as I have talked with various young women who are interested in dating certain young men whom they believe are likewise interested in them. I respond that a man will usually pursue when he is ready, and she should not assume anything otherwise. Assumption can be the cause for many hurt feelings and misunderstandings. Communication always clears up wrong assumptions.

6. Do not criticize others who communicate in a different way. It is a human tendency to think “my way is the best way.” In the area of communication, remember that different conversational styles are not bad. Different is simply different. Accept the differences and adjust when needed. Learn from the ways other people communicate.

If we simply understand that we are different, then a lot of conflict and misunderstandings can be avoided. I (Monica) communicate differently than my husband, but that does not mean that my way is better. We are simply different. When those of both genders come to understand this fact, we can learn to laugh at ourselves instead of becoming frustrated when we have differences.

Talking Point

“Men and women have different—though equally valid—communication styles.”

Let’s Talk about It

  1. What are some of the unique ways men and women communicate?
  2. Give an example of a time in your life when you saw firsthand the miscommunication that can take place between a man and a woman.
  3. Define and describe genderlect and genderflex.
  4. List the most apparent gender communication differences. Give a personal example of at least one.
  5. Identify one way you need to improve your gender communication. Set a goal or two to help accomplish the objective.