This may not be politically correct, but men and women are different. Very different when it comes to communication.
And as a result, men and women DO NOT understand each other much of the time.
There’s a biological reason for that. Men and women process information differently. When they’re engaged in a mental task, for example, in the man’s brain the areas involved in the task are concentrated in a few centers. In the woman’s brain, multiple sites throughout the left and right hemispheres are active.
So it’s no wonder why men excel when focusing on one issue at a time while women have an edge when it comes to multitasking.
And it’s no wonder there’s so much frustration in male-female communication. I’ve heard countless women in my seminars say, “Sometimes talking to a man is like banging my head against a brick wall. He just doesn’t listen or he doesn’t respond.”
So what works when you talk to a man?
1. Describe the importance of what you’re about to say.
Let the man know when you’re about to say something that needs his close attention. Tell him you want to have a serious talk.
In other words be direct. Women have higher concentrations of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the part of the brain responsible for language and memory. Put simply, many men just don’t “get it” as quickly as women do when it comes to communication.
So be direct. If you want something, ask. Don’t hint.
2. Get rid of distractions.
As I said, men don’t multitask as well as women. So don’t expect to have a decent conversation with a man who is watching TV or reading a newspaper.
You may need to get out of your male boss’ office or your husband’s workshop if he tends to look at those things or keep on fidgeting with some task while you’re talking.
3. Ban the blame.
Don’t open the conversation with an attack on his poor communication skills. That almost never works.
Instead of saying, “You never listen” or “You never remember from one day to the next what we talked about,” start with a positive comment. It tends to warm up and open up the communication channels. Say something like, “I know you really care about our relationship,” or “I have no doubt you want what’s best for our department.”
4. Ask for what you want.
Men are programmed to solve a problem when presented with one. But a solution may not be what the woman is after. Sometimes she simply wants to vent frustrations or talk through potential solutions.
If you’re a woman, you’re much more likely to get the response you want if you tell the man what you want from the conversation. And tell him at the beginning of the conversation. You might say, “I’d like you to listen to some of the options I’m considering, but I don’t want you to tell me what to do.” Of course, if you do want an answer, ask him directly what he would do.
5. Say what you mean.
As so many women say, “Why should I have to ask him to unload the dishwasher? I want him to see that I’m tired and just do it.”
Dr. Marianne Legato, the author of Why Men Never Remember and Women Never Forget, says that’s baloney. In her words, “It’s lovely when the people in our lives anticipate our needs, but expecting it without going to the trouble of making our needs known is nothing more than setting a trap.”
You’ve got to SAY what you mean — for a very simple reason. Men tend to miss or misread body language. Research has found that men have much more difficultly identifying facial expressions than women do, especially on the female face.
6. Stay focused.
Don’t generalize by saying, “You never finish on time.” And don’t drag up past history, such as “That’s just like the time you forgot my birthday ten years ago.”
Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done. When women commit a situation to memory, research shows there’s extra blood flow to the part of her brain that stores and retrieves those situations. So it’s easier for women to bring up incidents from the past.
You’ve got to stick to the subject at hand. Stick to the current challenge. If you bring up too many situations, the chances of having a productive discussion are very slim.
7. Don’t talk too long.
In my keynote and seminar entitled The Power of Partnership, I use a slide that shows a teacher talking to her class. The teacher says, “It’s my job to talk and your job to listen. I hope you don’t finish your job before I do.”
The same could be said about male-female communication. Men seem to have less stamina for extended conversations than women do. So watch for the clues that say he’s bored or losing patience. There’s not much use in pushing on if neither of you is at your best. It may take a few short talks … rather than one long, dragged-out discussion … to get the job done.
When FIS, an international provider of financial services technology, hired me to deliver The Power of Partnership program to them, they got an immediate payback in terms of better communication in the workplace. Lorna Thomas, PHR, wrote, “Our employees have had nothing but rave reviews for the power and practicality of your program. In fact, your fame has spread across our company, and many of our other locations are a little jealous and want to be taught the same skills.”
(To read more about this program, go to https://www.drzimmerman.com/programs/keynotes/teamwork-relationships.)
8. Review the takeaways.
Boil down your 5, 10, or even 60-minute conversation into 1, 2, or 3 succinct take-aways. Summarize the key points that were said, any decisions that were made, and what the next step will be — if any. You increase the chances the conversation will stay in everyone’s memory.
As I bring this Tuesday Tip to a close, I know lots of you are saying, “Fine. That’s how I talk to a man more effectively. But tell me how to talk to a woman more effectively.”
Being a man, I can’t tell you, personally. I could only repeat what the research says.
So let me suggest an alternative. Respond to this Tuesday Tip with some tips of your own.
If you’re a woman, tell us what you what you need when it comes to communication. What works for you?
And if you’re a man, tell us what you’ve learned when it comes to communicating with a woman more effectively.
You can give your responses by starting a discussion below this post, or sign up with Disqus at this link https://disqus.com/profile/signup/
Later, I’ll share the responses that come in.
Dr. Zimmerman’s Tuesday Tip, Issue 911 – 8 Ways to Communicate with Men