“Nothing in life is more important than the ability to communicate effectively.”
Gerald Ford, U.S. President
I can’t think of anything we do more often … AND … mess up more often … than the process of communication. In fact a large percentage of what we say gets misinterpreted, and a large percentage of what we hear is misunderstood.
A “Tuesday Tip” reader sent me an example. She said, “My husband and I were dressed and ready to go out for a New Year’s Eve party. We turned on a night light, turned the answering machine on, covered our pet parakeet, and put the cat in the backyard. We phoned the local cab company and requested a taxi.”
“The taxi arrived, and we opened the front door to leave the house. Unfortunately, the cat we put out in the yard, scooted back into the house. We didn’t want the cat shut in the house because she always tries to eat the bird.”
“So I went out to the taxi, while my husband went inside to get the cat. The cat ran upstairs, with my husband in hot pursuit. Waiting in the cab, I didn’t want the driver to know that the house would be empty for the night. So I explained to the taxi driver that my husband would be out soon, that he was just going upstairs to say goodbye to my mother.”
“A few minutes later, my husband got into the cab. ‘Sorry I took so long,’ he said, as we drove away. ‘That stupid thing was hiding under the bed. I had to poke her with a broom to get her to come out! She tried to take off, so I grabbed her by the neck. Then, I had to wrap her in a blanket to keep her from scratching me. But it worked! I hauled her butt downstairs and threw her out into the back yard!'”
“The cab driver sped off and hit a parked car, he was so shocked.”
Well maybe you get shocked too … when you try to communicate … and the other person just doesn’t “get” it. And that’s especially true when you try to communicate with a person of the opposite gender. More often than not, there’s a lack of communication.
That’s why I developed and taught the first university course in the nation … way back in the 1970’s … on “Communication between the Sexes.” And that’s why I continue to research and teach on this topic in such venues as my annual marriage enrichment cruise.
Of course, you may be well aware of the fact that men and women DO NOT understand each other much of the time. And there’s a biological reason for that. Neuroscientists tell us men and women process information differently. When they’re engaged in a mental task, for example, in the man’s brain the areas involved in the task are concentrated in a few centers. In the woman’s brain, multiple sites throughout the left and right hemispheres are active.
So it’s no wonder why men excel when focusing on one issue at a time while women have an edge when it comes to multitasking.
That being the case, let me address a very controversial topic: HOW DO YOU TALK TO A MAN? After all, I’ve heard so many women say, “Sometimes talking to the man in my life is like banging my head against a brick wall. He just doesn’t listen, or he’s irritated and doesn’t respond.” So women ask, “What works when you talk to a man? How should I do it?”
Try these techniques.
=> 1. Describe the importance of what you’re about to say.
Let the man know when you’re about to say something that needs his close attention. Tell him you want to have a serious talk.
In other words be direct. Women have higher concentrations of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the part of the brain responsible for language and memory. Put simply, many men just don’t “get it” as quickly as women do when it comes to communication.
So be direct. If you want something, ask. Don’t hint.
=> 2. Get rid of distractions.
As I said, men don’t multitask as well as women. So don’t expect to have a decent conversation with a man who is watching TV or reading a newspaper.
You may need to get out of your male boss’ office or your husband’s workshop if he tends to look at those things or keep on fidgeting with some task while you’re talking.
=> 3. Ban the blame.
Don’t open the conversation with an attack on his poor communication skills. That almost never works.
Instead of saying, “You never listen” or “You never remember from one day to the next what we talked about,” start with a positive comment. It tends to warm up and open up the communication channels. Say something like, “I know you really care about our relationship,” or “I have no doubt you want what’s best for our department.”
=> 4. Ask for what you want.
Men are programmed to solve a problem when presented with one. But a solution may not be what the woman is after. Sometimes she simply wants to vent frustrations or talk through potential solutions.
If you’re a woman, you’re much more likely to get the response you want if you tell the man what you want from the conversation. And tell him at the beginning of the conversation. You might say, “I’d like you to listen to some of the options I’m considering, but I don’t want you to tell me what to do.” Of course, if you do want an answer, ask him directly what he would do.
=> 5. Say what you mean.
As so many women say, “Why should I have to ask him to unload the dishwasher? I want him to see that I’m tired and just do it.”
Dr. Marianne Legato, the author of “Why Men Never Remember and Women Never Forget,” says that’s baloney. In her words, “It’s lovely when the people in our lives anticipate our needs, but expecting it without going to the trouble of making our needs known is nothing more than setting a trap.”
You’ve got to SAY what you mean — for a very simple reason. Men tend to miss or misread body language. Research has found that men have much more difficultly identifying facial expressions than women do, especially on the female face.
And women use a lot of facial expressions to communicate … which leads to frustration for both parties. The woman feels she has communicated her needs through her rather obvious body language … which the man may have missed. So he doesn’t respond to her needs. The woman ends up feeling like her needs are being ignored, and the man feels exasperated by what he considers to be her unreadable body language.
So SAY what you mean. And going back to point four above, ASK for what you want.
=> 6. Stay focused.
Don’t generalize by saying, “You never finish on time.” And don’t drag up past history, such as “That’s just like the time you forgot my birthday ten years ago.”
Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done. When women commit a situation to memory, research shows there’s extra blood flow to the part of her brain that stores and retrieves those situations. So it’s easier for women to bring up incidents from the past.
You’ve got to stick to the subject at hand. Stick to the current challenge. If you bring up too many situations, the chances of having a productive discussion are very slim.
=> 7. Don’t talk too long.
In one of my presentations, I use a PowerPoint slide, showing a teacher talking to her class. The caption reads, as the teacher talks, “It’s my job to talk and your job to listen. I hope you don’t finish your job before I do.”
The same could be said about male-female communication. Men seem to have less stamina for extended conversations than women do. So watch for the clues that say he’s bored or losing patience. There’s not much use in pushing on if neither of you is at your best. It may take a few short talks … rather than one long, dragged-out discussion … to get the job done.
=> 8. Review the takeaways.
Boil down your 5, 10, or even 60-minute conversation into 1, 2, or 3 succinct take-aways. Summarize the key points that were said, any decisions that were made, and what the next step will be — if any. You increase the chances the conversation will stay in everyone’s memory.
President Ford was right. There is nothing in life more important than the ability to communicate effectively. And if you’re going to communicate with a man, you will be well served if you start with these tips.
Action: Select two of the eight communication strategies that you most need to improve. And make a concerted effort to remember and follow those strategies every time you talk to a man in the next thirty days.