To recap Part I of this post, we reviewed how men’s and women’s brains have evolved very differently. Men’s brains have evolved to be compartmentalized … to do one thing at a time, and do it very, very well. Women’s brains have evolved to be highly efficient at multi-tasking. In Part II, we reviewed how women can simultaneously listen to multiple conversations on different subjects, speak at the same as they listen, all the while keeping track of everything, whereas men take turns. We explored why men can always find the North and why women are poor map readers.
Hence, we learned that our genetic evolution has men and women communicating very differently, or rather mis-communicating. Once we understand our genetic communication predispositions, and we remember to apply them, I posit that many relationships will become happier and healthier. After all, it is often said and no doubt true, that communication is the key to successful relationships. So let’s continue exploring this subject of mis-communication between men and women.
It will come as no great surprise or shock to anyone, that the number one skill women developed over the eons of our evolution … drum roll please … is speech and language! But there is a fundamental difference in the way and the reasons why women and men talk. Put bluntly, women are great talkers, men are not. Let’s start with the fact that men speak, on average, some 7,000 to 10,000 words a day, whereas women speak, on average, 25,000 words. A “word” in this case is defined as a “communication signal” which can be verbal, tonal or body language. A woman can vocalize 8 to 9,000 words with up to 500 to 600 tonal changes using 5 tones (remember that men can only identify 3 of those 5), along with 4,000 to 6,000 different gestures and movements. This represents a total of some 25,000 communication signals a day!
But the biggest single difference between how men and women use speech and language is the fact that they are for completely opposite purposes. Men use speech and language to communicate facts and data. Therefore, when speaking, men tend to use short sentences and direct talk. That is, we tend to go straight to the point. Similarly, when listening, men look for facts and data. As a result, men are also problem solvers. We think that is part of our duty as the hunters-gatherers of the tribe. Women use speech and language for bonding and rewarding. Women speak an emotional language. That is, they express their emotions through their speech.
This difference in how men and women use speech and language is vitally important. Think about it. When a woman speaks she wants to emote. However, men listen for facts and data. Men listen for the (most of the time non-existent) problem that we think a woman is conveying. Hence, once we have identified the (non-existent) problem, we interrupt and offer a (non-requested and unnecessary) solution. Furthermore, if speech and language is used by women for bonding and rewarding, then silence is used as a punishment. If a woman is mad at a man and wants to punish him, she goes into silent mode! The problem is that men love silence and view it as a reward. No wonder we mis-communicate and misunderstand each other. When a woman loves a man and wants him to feel appreciated, she talks to him. The more she talks, the more she loves him. For a woman, words are a reward.
The large difference in the number of communication signals men and women express on a daily basis is evident around the dinner table or, more likely these days, in front of the TV. That’s because, by the time the family sits around for dinner, men have spoken their 10,000 words, but women are generally not even half way through. Dinner time is fire-gazing time where men get to channel surf. By the way, we channel surf because we are not so much interested in what’s on TV, as much as we’re interested in what else is on TV! Remember that it’s pointless to have a conversation, intelligent or otherwise, with a man who’s fire gazing as he is, for all intents and purposes, deaf. Of course this leads to all kinds of mis-communications and hurt feelings.
Man is at peace fire gazing and woman comes home with still some 11,000 words to speak. Or perhaps she had a good day and spoke 15,000 or 16,000 words. In which case, she still has some 10,000 to 9,000 to speak. But maybe she’s had a bad day. She’s been speaking with small boys at the kindergarten, or grown men at the office. The former likely grunted all day. The latter mostly grunted as well and/or were emotionally expressionless throughout the day.Now she has 20,000 words to speak and someone has to hear them. Who else but her partner?
“Hi, dear. How was your day?” she asks. Most men will answer: “Good”…10,001! Woman will continue with a different question. Perhaps: “How was your presentation to the management team?” “Good”, he replies…10,002! Now she’s thinking that he doesn’t love her anymore because he won’t talk. But that’s an erroneous conclusion. He simply has spoken his 10,000 words and is happily fire gazing.
However, man has learned that he must also ask his partner about her day. So, he does and she proceeds to tell him. “You wouldn’t believe the day I had. I wore the blue dress with the nice pumps I bought when we were on vacation because it thought it was going to be such a nice day. But then it started pouring rain and I didn’t take my umbrella so I got drenched on the way to work. Speaking of which, I ran into Joan at the coffee shop which, by the way, served my coffee so hot that I burned my tongue. But Joan was limping and it turns out that she hurt her hip last week and may have to have it operated, poor thing. And you won’t believe this, but I broke the heel on those pumps. I got them caught on the escalator when I went to the mall.” etc. From a man’s point of view, he has just been inundated in an avalanche of facts and data, all of which are unrelated. He also believes that he has been presented with several problems and she expects him to fix each and every one! So he proceeds to do just that.
Because he can only do one thing at a time, he keeps interrupting her about what she should have done (i.e., the solution) with each perceived problem. Example: “Wait a minute, dear. Here’s what you should have done. You should have listened to the weather forecast because then you would have known it was going to rain and you would have taken your umbrella and not gotten wet.” From a man’s perspective: problem identified and problem solved. He’s signified he loves her. From a woman’s perspective, she’s thinking: “He’s interrupting me. He doesn’t love me.”
Somewhat unfazed, she continues with her story and gets to the pump (not much he can do about the hip). “I broke the heel on those pumps. I got them caught on the escalator when I went to the mall.” Man is thinking: “Broken heels on shoes … problem. “Here’s what you should have done, dear. You shouldn’t wear high heels on escalators. That’s dangerous. Just wear flat shoes next time.” From a man’s perspective: problem identified, problem solved, he’s shown his love for her. She’s thinking: “He won’t listen to me. He doesn’t love me anymore.” Meantime, he’s wondering why he has to fix all these problems. Seems to him they are quite simple and she should be able to solve them herself. Which she could if they were problems. She was speaking to show her love for him.
What would have been mutually satisfying (I am a man, hence: solution)? For the man to simply listen. There was no need to seek solutions to perceived problems, because there were no problems. Your partner was simply talking to reward and bond with you. But there’s more to listening than simply paying attention.
When men listen they tend to have expressionless faces and literally grunt responses. This is true across cultural divides and geographical boundaries. That’s because, as we grew up, and particularly as we entered the business world, we learned to not express emotions, particularly either smiling or crying. It is not “manly.” For women that means that, when you’re listening to a man, listen with an expressionless face and grunt some responses. He will feel an immediate bond with you. For men, the opposite is true. Your face and body must mirror her emotions and you must respond with questions or sentences such as: “No, that did not happen!”, said with an expression of surprise or horror, depending on the story. “No, what did you do ?” said with arched eyebrows expressing interest. “She didn’t, did she?”, again expressing interest. And for God’s sake, don’t offer solutions. None are needed unless asked directly to do so. And be genuine about your interest. This is your partner. She is bonding with you the best way she knows how. She will immediately know if you are faking interest and the penalty will be severe.
Again, please remember we are talking about most men and most women in most situations. Also, remember that most men will exhibit some feminine traits and some women will exhibit masculine traits.
While we will revisit this topic at other times, this marks the end of this three-part post. I hope that it has and/or will help you in communicating more effectively with your partner and avoid the shoals of failing relationships and, instead, create a vibrant, loving and healthy relationship.
As always, in love, Jean-Pierre
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This post is based on research done by Barbara and Allan Pease