Several years ago, my husband said to me, “Honey, you talk faster than most people can listen.” I took no offense at this, mainly because I had asked him for feedback on a presentation I was preparing. Also, I had to confess, it is totally true.
It led me to not only consciously slow down when I’m talking to folks, but also to ponder the great mysteries of communication between the genders and the generations.
I’ve heard a lot of folks complain about their partner’s communication skills. Complain may be too strong, as it’s often done in a good natured manner, so perhaps grumble is a better word. You just have to sit around a table of friends and you’ll hear things like, “he doesn’t listen,” or “I have to tell him things over and over.”
Now that I think about it, this usually comes from women. And they might be talking about spouses or children, for that matter. Menfolk usually don’t talk about their women’s communication skills and if they do, they just shrug and say “she doesn’t get it” or “I’m in the doghouse again and I have no idea why.”
As it turns out, there are gender differences related to communication. A book published in 2007 (The Female Brain) stated that women talk more than twice as much as men in a day. This is due to a higher level of a certain protein found in female brains. So when men complain that women talk too much, it’s because we do. At least that’s what the study found.
Then in 2014, Dr. Matthias Mehl published a study that demonstrated that women and men speak about the same number of words a day. Women used a few more words daily, but the amount was not statistically significant.
The study, and several others, did find that the use of language differs for men and women. Women use words to explore and relate feelings. Men use words for a purpose. So he uses words to convey a specific point or solve a problem. She uses words to release emotions and increase intimacy.
When she has a problem, the female wants to relay the story and the feelings with her partner listening. The male wants to solve the problem, so will interrupt to say things he believes are helpful, such as “you’re making a mountain out of a molehill” or “that’s nothing to worry about.” Since the lady is not finished emoting, she often feels dismissed or belittled.
Meanwhile, when he’s got a problem, he wants to retreat to his mental man cave. The human male likes to clam up, do something in his workshop or go fishing, and then figure out the solution. His partner wants to help by asking him to talk or “share,” which he perceives as nagging.
Yep, it’s a minefield out there. It’s a wonder we communicate at all! Stay tuned — next week, I’m going to share what I’ve found about the communication gaps between the generations.
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Sue is a retired public servant who volunteers at the Hospice store (For All Seasons) in Troy and teaches part-time at Urbana University. She keeps busy taking care of husband, house, and pets. She and her husband have an adult son who lives in Troy.