Communication Breakdown (Part 2): Say What You Mean, Mean What You Say

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From Glamour magazine, “11 Things Guys Just Don’t Understand About Women,” it seems that the biggest beef men have with women is that they can’t understand our style of communication. Seriously, six of the eleven things were about communication!

Men and women have very different styles of communication. I know, newsflash, right? Let me break it down and offer some tips to improve communication between the sexes. There are five major differences in communication between men and women, in my personal experience. 

The second major difference in communication styles between men and women is the distinction between direct and indirect communication, specifically when it comes to making and agreeing to a request.

Socially, men are conditioned to make direct requests, and to expect those requests to be either honored or rejected. In other words, he asks for something, and receives a clear “yes” or “no” in response. Women are conditioned in a way that, if we make requests at all, they’re done indirectly. And often, when a woman responds, she might not be saying what she really means. This is understandably maddening to men. Why would she do that?

Women are socialized to believe that selfish is a four letter word. By the time most women grow into adulthood, we’ve had years of practice getting what we need without directly requesting it, or settling for less than what we really want. We feel guilty saying “no” to a request from someone we love, even if it’s inconvenient for us or goes against what we really want.

This baffles the minds of men, and causes arguments in most relationships. For example, the man will ask if he can go out with the guys Friday night. The woman says, “Yes, of course, you don’t have to ask permission!” and then sulks for the rest of the weekend. Translation: “Yes, honey, you can go out with the guys. But if you have too much fun or stay out late I’m going to worry that you like them more than you like me.”  

Advice for guys: Most of the time, she’s not thinking this stuff consciously. It’s her wounded inner child (part of the subconscious mind) talking. Luckily, there’s a pretty easy fix. When you ask and she replies with a “yes,” look her deeply in the eyes and say, “Are you sure? Do you have any reservations about it/problems with it at all?” This will tell her that she matters to you, and if she’s mature enough and does have reservations, she’ll spill the beans then. Another thing you can do after the fact is to pay a little extra attention to her for the rest of the weekend, in unexpected ways. Give her a big hug, or tell her some specific thing you love about her. Don’t overdo it, or she might think you’re trying to make up for something bad you did while you were out. Little things will help put her inner child at ease. 

Advice for women: Okay ladies, if you don’t want your guy to go out, just say no! Or at least talk to him about it. Be willing to share your feelings, even if they don’t seem to make sense. Maybe the friend he’s going out with is a hound dog and you’re subconsciously worried his behavior might rub off on your honey. Logically you know it would never happen, but there’s a little part of you that’s worried. Lighten it up if you can, but speak your truth. It’s perfectly acceptable to say, “I know you’re nothing like Joe, but there’s still a small, mildly neurotic part of me that worries.” Are there conditions to your agreement? Tell him up front, not after the fact. If you expect him to do yard work all weekend, he’ll take it as punishment if he doesn’t know about it in advance. 

One sign of maturity and enlightenment is the ability to speak your truth in a clear way that does not intentionally harm another. Men and women both have challenges with this aspect of personal growth. Men can learn to speak without harming the other person, taking a careful look at an “honesty at all costs” policy. Direct communication doesn’t have to be blunt, and it doesn’t have to be hurtful. And women can practice communicating more directly. One tool you can use is to pause before responding to a request. We’re conditioned to respond immediately to a request, usually with a “yes.” If instead, you listen to the request and then pause before answering, you can decide what you really want to do. You can also practice saying, “I’m not sure, I need to think about it. Can I get back to you?” Trust me, the world will not implode if you learn to say “no.”

(Part 1) | Part 2


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