How men and women can communicate better with less conflict

It doesn’t matter if you’re working with someone or married to someone, relationships are difficult. They take an awful lot of strenuous effort and intelligent skill.

Add gender differences to the mix and you add some extra challenges in terms of what it takes to live and work together effectively and peacefully.

Here are a few tips from my program on The Power of Partnership that should be of great help to you. 

►1. Recognize the different styles in male-female communication.

Men and women tend to use vastly different styles of communication, for example. Both styles have tremendous value and both styles are necessary. But when males and females try to work together or live together, the style differences can easily lead to problems instead of problem solving.

Just look at language usage. Women tend to use hint language while men tend to use literal language. (Notice I said tend. These are tendencies and not absolute descriptions of how women and men communicate all the time. You can always find plenty of exceptions.)

For example, video-taped research has shown that women often use a hint or question at the end of a sentence. A woman might say, “It’s cold in here, isn’t it?” What she is saying is, “Turn up the heat.”

The man doesn’t get the hint. It’s not his style of language. He takes her literally and says, “No.” If this goes on long enough, she might complain, “He never does what I ask him to do.” He replies by saying, “Just tell me what you want,” to which she replies, “I’ve been telling you for 30 years, haven’t I?”

Tip: Don’t get into an argument as to which language style is better. That’s a waste of time and will only cause conflict. Instead, I suggest that you have a discussion with the most significant people in your work and personal lives, talking about each of your “natural” communication styles. Try to understand (not necessarily agree with) the other person’s style and discuss what adaptations each of you could make to your style so there is more communication and less misunderstanding.

► 2. Recognize the different purposes men and women have for their communication.

Men use communication to report a fact while women use communication to build rapport.

That’s why one person said women are so much more romantic than men. It comes naturally to them. Men, on the other hand, forget to do romantic things — like talk.

You can see these purpose differences quite clearly when conflicts arise. Most men want to win or conquer. So when problems arise, about 50% of men keep things inside. They don’t talk to anyone because that would make them vulnerable. That would make them less likely to “win.”

Most women, on the other hand, use a different style when problems arise. They want to cooperate and relate. Ninety four percent of women go to someone when problems arise. They want to talk it through, usually with other women.

It’s like the time two women were asking about the suitability of certain men for marriage. They decided men who have pierced ears are better prepared for marriage. They’ve experienced pain and bought jewelry.

Tip: To resolve a conflict, you need to use communication that taps into both … communication that builds rapport but also allows BOTH people to come away feeling like winners instead of losers.

► 3. Recognize the different openness levels in men and women.

When times are tough, it’s tempting to clam up or refuse to talk about it. That’s dangerous. According to research by Dr. Gary Chapman, 85% of failed relationships show a lack of communication. The people didn’t talk or couldn’t talk, so they grew further apart.

And there’s some indication that men are more likely to withdraw than women. As one female comedian said, “Men are like remote controls.” She said, “Think about it. They’re made for men. They’re ‘remote.’ They don’t get too close. And they’re in ‘control,’ or at least, they think they are.”

You also cannot withdraw when times are good. If you’re in a love relationship, you’ve got to talk about your feelings. And that can be more difficult for men. Indeed, a lot of them feel it but don’t talk about it.

Tip for men: So what if you’re not comfortable with openness. You’ve got to communicate in a way that works and not necessarily in a way that is easy for you”

As poet laureate John Barrymore said, “We are as sick as we are secret.” Healthy relationships have lots of communication and most everything is out in the open. Sick relationships have too much withdrawal and too many secrets.

On the other hand, women have a tendency to be more open and want to talk about almost everything. Sometimes they want to talk about the same issues over and over again, perhaps at a time when the men are not ready to listen.

Tip for women: To initiate more effective communication, announce your topic and ask if this would be a good time to discuss it … rather than just spill it out. If you get a “no” response, push a little harder and ask for a good time to discuss what’s on your mind.

When there is a lack of openness, too much withdrawing, or too many secrets, the result is a sick relationship, like the one the Andersons had. Mrs. Anderson came up behind her husband and slapped the back of his head. She said, “I found a piece of paper in your pants pocket with the name ‘Mary Lou’ written on it. You’d better have an explanation.”

Mr. Anderson replied, “Calm down, honey. Remember last week when I was at the horse track? That was the name of the horse I bet on.”

The next morning Mrs. Anderson sneaked up behind her husband and whacked him again. The husband immediately complained, “What was that for?” She said, “Your horse called last night.”