Genderlect is the language that’s tied to our gender. Women typically use verbal communication to not only get things done, but also bond with friends and loved ones. Men, on the other hand, use verbal communication as a last resort when gifts and gestures can’t get the message across.
For example, when a couple comes home from a long day at work, sits down for dinner and begins to discuss their day, there is a notable difference in how each tells the story. When he talks about his day, the man’s answer is a quick, “Pretty good, lots of meetings.” When talking about her day, the woman goes into great detail, “Oh it was horrible! First I spilled coffee all down the front of me, then I was 15 minutes late to my first meeting which then made me 15 minutes late to every other meeting. I had no time for lunch and was starving by 2:00 p.m. so I binged on the candy that was sitting on my admin’s desk. I was stuck in traffic forever and the drive-through line to pick up dinner was ridiculous.”
The man then stares at the woman like a deer in headlights secretly wishing he hadn’t asked at all. The wife sits pouting in silence because not only didn’t he share more with her, but he didn’t even inquire as to whether or not she was OK now or if there was anything he could do to make her day better. Sound familiar?
Since the beginning of time, there has been an innate difference in the way men and women communicate. Though we are viewed as equals in our professional and personal lives, we are very different creatures. So different, in fact, that linguists have given a word to describe it: genderlect. Genderlect is defined as a variety of a language that is tied not to geography or family background or to a role, but to a speaker’s sexual gender.
Conversational differences are initially noticed during childhood. Since the way we communicate is thought to stem from the sexual gender role models who surround us, we adopt their communication styles. Girls speak with more emotion, describing how they feel and why they feel that way. They are usually at the center of a hostile situation trying to make light of it and find a peaceful and fair solution. Boys tend to be more aggressive. They speak more with action than words, and give direction instead of taking it. And boys tend to spend less time dealing with the drama that girls do.
Surely, any woman reading this will agree that these differences do not change as we get older. Women tend to center even more of their conversations around emotions. They try to share every detail of a story and usually begin sentences with “I feel,” “I think,” or “I wish.” They engage in conversation hoping for feedback or suggestions.
Men, on the other hand, only give detail when it’s required of them. They are more apt to quickly get to the point. They have little need for sharing the particulars that led up to an event and are often looking to end the conversation after they’ve made their point rather than take the time to hear what you think about the situation.
So, when you’re at your wits end trying to make a relationship work, how do you get past the communication barrier? According to Suzette Haden Elign, author of “Genderspeak: Men, Women, and the Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense,” these six simple steps can help you better understand one another:
- 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 gender communication.
- Understand the communication style of the opposite sex. You may be unfamiliar with the unique communication style of the other gender. Listen carefully to the opposite sex around you. Make observations in their conversation. What do they say? How do they say it? When do they speak? Why do they speak? Discuss these conversational differences 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.
- Adjust to those conversational styles. You may think it is impossible to change the way you communicate because, after all, you have been communicating this way for years. Remember that communication is a learned behavior and behavior can be modified. If you tend to lecture or report, maybe you should work on better listening skills and discussing feelings, not just facts. If you tend to speak in vague generalities, perhaps you should work on more detail and specific information in your conversation. If your indirect body language is confusing your verbal message, maybe you should consciously work on gestures that clarify and confirm your words.
- 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 statements are appropriate for a group at church while others should be made to your best friend, instead.
- Don’t assume that the opposite sex understands your message. Just because the message is clear to you does not mean that it is clear to the listener. In fact, one of the biggest mistakes in communication is assumption. It is always best to explain the message thoroughly than run the risk of being misunderstood.
- Don’t 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 conversation styles are not bad. Different is simply different. Accept the differences and adjust when needed.
After reading all of this you may find yourself feeling a bit overwhelmed. Bridging the communication gap between a man and a woman takes patience from both people, and will in many cases be a life-long task. But while it will take work to break old habits and really begin to understand how the other person communicates, that effort can be the difference between forever miserable in life and happily ever after.