He Said/She Said: Why Do Men and Women Communicate So Differently?
Maybe it’s a throwback to the hunter/gatherer concept – or a cruel hoax of nature.
Whatever the reason, though, the differences in communication between men and women sure make for interesting challenges!
Women Speak Twice as Many Words
You’ve probably heard the statistics that women speak, on average, nearly twice as many words a day as men. Dr. Scott Halzman reports in Psychology Today that women speak around 7,000 words per day, compared to 2.000 words for their male counterparts.
Author Ruth Masters in her book, Counseling Criminal Justice Offenders, contends that women utter 25,000 words, compared to the 12,000 spoken by men each day. And Dr. Louann Brizendine, Clinical Professor of Psychology at the University of California at San Francisco, puts the number at 20,000 for women and 7,000 for men.
Regardless of the various statistics, the trend is unmistakable. A recent Internet search turned up nine different versions of this women-to-men ratio, ranging from 50,000 vs. 25,000 to 5,000 vs. 2,500. (My husband, John, says I use up my allotment before noon on some days!)
Mars and Venus
Most of us are familiar with this whole area of pop culture that sprang up from John Gray’s publication of Men Are From Mars/Women Are From Venus back in 1993. Since then, Gray has published more books on the subject, including Mars and Venus in the Workplace.
Obviously, these are stereotypical descriptions. I’m not altogether comfortable lumping everything into these categories.
How Many Words?
According to Professor Mark Liberman of the University of Pennsylvania, there are studies involving thousands of speakers of various ages, regions, languages and cultures. He cites a review of the scientific literature by researchers Janice Drakich and Deborah James in which there’s no distinguishable difference in the actual number of words spoken. Go figure.
In her book, The Female Brain, however, Brizendine states that women speak faster than men – approximately 250 words per minute vs. 125. (Reminds me of my old typing tests in high school!)
In addition to the anecdotal references in many current books and articles, there are also a number of scientific studies that have been conducted in this arena; and they offer insights into navigating these treacherous waters.
Most notable among these is the work of Dr. Deborah Tannen at Georgetown University. Tannen is the author of more than 100 published articles and 21 books, including That’s Not What I Meant: How Conversational Style Makes or Breaks Relationships, and the New York Times bestseller, You Just Don’t Understand.
Report Talk and Rapport Talk
Through her studies Dr. Tannen has determined that men value “report talk,” while women value “rapport talk.” I’ve taken some creative license with “the three Rs” and come up with a way to frame this: Report, Rapport and Respect (for the differences).
The difference of context could also be a major factor in the miscommunication that takes place between couples, among co-workers and in families and communities. It could also lead to two of the major culprits for dealing with conflict – making assumptions and taking things personally.
Although I work daily in the field of communications, I’m continually intrigued by the differences in our interactions. It’s what led me to further studies in the fields of psychology and counseling – an inquiry into “what makes us tick.”
It’s no wonder that the “he said/she said” phenomenon has us coming away from discussions with such different interpretations of the same situation. The purpose of conversing with others is often quite different for men and women.
Facts and Feelings
According to Rene Ragan of Insight Institute, an international company which designs human resource materials, women talk about people and feelings to enhance interaction. Men talk about things and activities to gain information.
You can see how this might play out in different ways. A disclosure of personal information in the workplace, for example, often has a dramatically different effect on men than women. To women, revealing information is a way of establishing a connection with their colleagues. Men, on the other hand, often see such disclosures as unnecessary, inappropriate or even threatening.
Again, with a caution flag extended toward stereotyping, it’s been noted in various studies that women like to talk things out, while men want to solve the problem and move on. When making an apology, men often think that’s the end of it, while women view it as the beginning of a discussion.
Message Sent/Message Received?
So, the next time you’re walking away from a situation shaking your head, stop to ask yourself a few questions:
- Was the message I sent the message that was received? And vice versa.
- Did I just experience a situation of “report talk” or “rapport talk”?
- Am I making an assumption?
- Am I taking anything that was said (or not said) personally?
- Am I respecting the differences in communication styles?
While not overthinking it, stop to consider any miscommunication a bit before reacting. You may gain some insights by going through these questions that will help to diffuse miscommunications at the outset – and keep situations from escalating.
I could write reams on this subject if space allowed, but I’ve just about used up my allotment of words! He said/she said: the translation is likely somewhere in the middle.