While much has been said about women being from Venus and men being from Mars, the reality is that we all live on the same planet Earth and need to interact with each other in different ways on a daily basis. As Cynthia Burggraf Torppa points out, “Although at times differences in women’s and men’s communication styles seem to be constant and overwhelming, they are really quite minor. For example, both women and men can be nurturing, aggressive, task-focused, or sentimental. What is important to think about, however, is that women and men sometimes perceive the same messages to have different meanings. In fact, it may be as a result of the differences in message interpretation that the “battle of the sexes” occurs….
Women tend to be the relationship specialists and men tend to be task specialists. Women are typically the experts in “rapport talk” which refers to the types of communication that build, maintain, and strengthen relationships. Rapport talk reflects skills of talking, nurturing, emotional expression, empathy, and support. Men are typically the experts in task accomplishment and addressing questions about facts. They are experts in “report talk,” which refers to the types of communication that analyzes issues and solves problems. Report talk reflects skills of being competitive, lacking sentimentality, analyzing, and focusing aggressively on task accomplishment.
These differences can create specific, and commonly experienced, misunderstandings. Here are three examples:
He: I’m really tired. I have so much work to do—I don’t know how I’m going to get it done!
She: Me, too. There just aren’t enough hours in the day!
He: There you go again! You never think my contributions to this marriage are good enough!
In this conversation, she is trying to communicate something like “We’re partners and share similar experiences.” Her intended “between the lines” message is: “I understand what you’re going through; you’re not alone.” The “between the lines” message he hears emphasizes competition for status: “What are you complaining about? You aren’t any better than I am!” or “Your contributions to our marriage aren’t any more significant than mine!”…
She: I’m really tired. I have so much work to do—I don’t know how I’m going to get it done!
He: Why don’t you take a day off and rest, if you’re so tired?
She: (sarcastically) Thanks a lot! You think my contribution to this household is so trivial that I can do nothing and the difference won’t even be noticed?
Here, he is trying to communicate something like “Oh, you need advice and analysis? I’ll focus on the details and facts, and offer a solution.” His intended “between the lines” message is: “I will help you solve your problem because I think I know something that might help.” The “between the lines” message she hears him saying: “I don’t want to understand your feelings; I’m different from you and I know what you should do.”…
She: Call me when you get there and let me know you made it safely.
He: That’s ridiculous! Nothing bad is going to happen, so just trust that I’ll get there safely! If something bad does happen, I’m sure you’ll hear about it!
In this final example, she is trying to communicate something like, “We’re connected and I care about you and your safety.” Her intended “between the lines” message is: “You are loved and important to me.” The “between the lines” message he hears her saying is: “You had better check in with me! I want to know where you are, who you are with, and what you are doing at all times.”…
Understanding differences is the key to working them out. When we misunderstand one another, we often think that the other’s motives are not reasonable, are mean spirited, or worse! But by knowing that women and men sometimes see—and hear!—things through different filters, we can begin to share with one another the distortions we experience, and thereby find our way to clarity.
Have you experienced conflicts due to gender differences in the interpretation of the same message?
Source: Gender Issues: Communication Differences in Interpersonal Relationships