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5 Things You Could Improve at When Talking to Women

August 01, 2019DMT.NEWS

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How to Talk to Women & Communicate Effectively

It’s an age-old cliché that men and women communicate differently. 

Men often complain that they just don’t understand women; women are frustrated by the same issue. People break off into gender-segregated groups to discuss what a partner or crush said to them. “What do you think he meant by that?” “Dude, she’s so crazy. Can you believe her?” “Ugh, men are such pigs.” “Honestly, who knows how women’s brains work?” 

Of course, there’s nothing innately different about how different genders communicate — some men are more likely to communicate in a female tone, some women are likely to communicate more like a man and some people truly mix and match.

But growing up male or female will mean that you’re socialized in a specific way, trained to prioritize one mode of communication over another, and when it happens enough times to enough people, noticeable trends set in. 

Strictly speaking, there’s nothing wrong with two people (or two groups of people) having different communication styles. But when these differences are great enough and the people are in close enough contact, it can lead to negative outcomes — miscommunication, frustrating, fights, and even ugly breakups

Understanding how to communicate with someone whose communication style differs from yours, then, can have a major impact in your ability to relate to them, to get along with them and can save you both headache and heartache down the road. 

To get to the bottom of this, a dating expert, an author, a relationship therapist and a handful of real women opened up about how men and women communicate differently (and how men can improve at bridging the gap in their relationships with the women in their lives). 

Male Communication vs. Female Communication

“The problem is that men don’t think women are people.” - Genny, 33

So what exactly are the core differences between male and female modes of communication? Frances Metzman, an essayist and author, notes that the changes go “back to early childhood.” 

“Boys are given fire trucks and guns while girls get the tiny, cute tea cups and dolls,” she notes. “Women are taught to be nurturers, while men are single-minded in thinking about a career. The upshot is that fires and war represent strong and virile [things], while teacups don't impact the world. From early childhood, unwritten rules are in place.”

As you might expect, differences in terms of how boys and girls and taught to engage with the world and each other in early childhood produce adults who function very differently. 

“Men and women have very different psychological make-ups,” says NYC-based dating coach Connell Barrett. “It’s been said that men are from Mars and women are from Venus. To stay in the realm of the cosmos, I think men are like Mr. Spock and women are like Captain Kirk. Guys are very logical-minded in how they communicate, while women are much more in touch with their emotions and like to connect on an emotional wavelength.”

Those space-based snapshots might give you a hint about the enormity of the gulf between traditionally male and female forms of communication, but Metzman notes that there are consequences to all this beyond just a couple having a minor argument about what to have for dinner.  

RELATED: Five Relationship Fights That Every Couple Has

“By and large, men are taught to stifle emotions — not a good thing for good health,” says Metzman. “My supposition is that might be part of the reason women usually live longer than men.”

This isn’t mere conjecture — studies have linked early male mortality to men’s loneliness later in life, and their struggles to form meaningful bonds with people outside of a primary romantic relationship. Being able to communicate well is literally a matter of life and death. So how can you address that? 

“There is much work involved in having meaningful communication that is perhaps somewhat frightening,” adds Metzma. “We have to be constantly aware of these past issues in order to change the present. As a matter of fact, it is in changing how we communicate that contributes mightily to making our relationships work. Not only work well, but filled with joy, humor, support and love — that's lasting.”

What Men Get Wrong About Communicating With Women

“Things men get wrong: Trying to ‘fix’ my problems when I just need to be heard and understood. Dismissing my feelings or experience. An inability to be accountable, they’d rather place all the blame on me. Avoiding communication, period, because it’s too terrifying — therefore just shutting down instead of opening up.” - Daria, 35

If you ask a group of women about what men get wrong about communication, you’ll get a variety of answers. Most women are used to feeling frustrated and confused about men’s communication styles, and they’re very much aware that sometimes, it feels like talking across genders can feel like you’re speaking in two different languages. So what are the issues in play here?

Well, there are two significant issues that produce a lot of the gaps, misunderstandings and frustrations when it comes to male and female communication. 

1. Men Assume Women Communicate the Same Way They Do

The first mistake a lot of guys make is approaching communication the same way regardless of their interlocutor’s gender. Meaning, they assume the way they communicate with other men will function just as well when it comes to talking to women.

That’s not to say that they use the exact same approach, word for word — many guys will consciously self-edit when talking to women, using a less masculine and jocular vocabulary, for instance, with a female coworker than a male one — but that they will still prioritize the same facets of communication.

“Men want to solve problems, and communication is a means to that end — put out the fire, patch the hole, save the kitten,” says Barrett. “Women prioritize exploring and sharing emotions. They see the connected conversation as the goal. For women, emotional communication is an end unto itself.” 

In short, an inability to acknowledge and discuss emotions will put a guy at a disadvantage when it comes to talking to a woman. With blinders on, he’ll miss out on crucially important aspects of the conversation without ever realizing it. 

2. Men Dismiss the Importance of Female Modes of Communication

The second problem is that, while some men are aware that being able to center emotions within a conversation is an option, they don’t consider it viable or important. 

“We all have the same needs,” says Metzman. “Only, men are pushed to repress theirs. We might say men are taught that they are the rational gender because communication means problem-solving and women just chatter emotionally without looking to fix problems. It seems to me that is just an excuse for keeping the status quo, a way for men to not be too intimate as that might make him feel too feminine, something that is taboo in our society.”

In order to genuinely meet a woman at her level, you need to respect that her communication style isn’t less important or less worthwhile than yours — it’s just different. If you can do that, adapting to it and improving at it will come much more easily.

How to Improve at Communicating With Women

“[Men need to start] learning when to take accountability and not blaming, using non-violent communication, actively listening.” - Billie, 32

1. Work on Respecting Her

Before you even get into notions of how to improve at this kind of communication, you need to address the possibility that you might have deep-seated misogynistic attitudes. 

That’s not to say that you’re a chauvinist pig or a sexist monster, but that our society has historically been one where women have less power and are taken less seriously. It’s those attitudes that are transmitted to both men and women in childhood, and can be difficult to unlearn as adults. 

RELATED: How Anger Towards Women Might Be What's Keeping You Single

“Before we can have better communication between men and women, we must first eliminate the pervasive, under-the-radar, negative attitudes toward women,” says Metzman. “Not easy to do, but it is a major step to better communication.”

And what does that look like in practice, you ask? 

“A man must be attuned to what his partner says, not press the TV remote while she speaks,” notes Metzman. “If he does give the impression of listening and it's something he can't solve, he must rouse himself to understand that her feelings are meaningful and just as important as his. He has to cut loose the need to control or prove his worth over hers.”

2. Improve at Listening

The first step of communication is listening before you talk. Working on your ability to listen, then, is paramount. This isn’t something that will just happen automatically, but if you’re conscious that you want to improve at listening, you can make it something you truly attempt to work at on a daily basis. 

“Women want men to understand them emotionally, so the first thing you do is listen,” says Barrett. “Just listen. Hold off on offering solutions until she feels heard. Ask empathetic questions. Let her know you understand.” 

Part of that is also wanting to listen. Meaning, you should cultivate your curiosity about how she feels and what she thinks. 

“Focus on exploring,” suggests Jor-El Caraballo, a relationship therapist and co-creator of Viva Wellness. “Ask more questions. Be curious about your partner and their needs. Really taking the time to listen to understand, and not respond, can go an incredibly long way in helping your communication skills.”

3. Fight the Urge to Fix Things

One mistake a lot of guys make when talking to women occurs when a woman is telling a man about a problem she has. If you’re a literal-minded, goal-oriented kind of guy, your first instinct might be to try to figure out a solution to that problem. 

But if that’s what she’s looking for, she would have explicitly framed the conversation as a question like, “Can you help me solve this problem?” If, instead, she’s saying, “I’m having this problem,” it’s likely that she’s looking for something like compassion and support. 

“Men hear things literally, but to better communicate with women, we have to hear things emotionally,” says Barrett. “If your girlfriend is dealing with a work conflict, don’t rush to help her resolve the issue. First, listen and show genuine empathy. Be an ear. As a girlfriend reminded me after a long, stressful day she had studying for the MCATs, ‘Stop trying to help me and just listen.’”

4. Look for Subtext

Unlike men, women are typically taught to couch what they’re saying in subtext. Because saying what you feel outright can be seen as very intense, rude or dominating, women often shy away from it, and that can mean understanding subtext plays a huge role in communicating with women. 

This dynamic is at the heart of a lot of classic male/female conversational misunderstandings and frustration — “the classic example of ‘Does this make me look fat?’” for instance, according to Caraballo. 

“If that happens often, you could respond, ‘Are you really asking me if you look fat or are you looking for a different answer?’” he says. “Odds are, she might want to feel seen and attractive to you in that moment, and you wouldn't necessarily know that without asking the more outright question.”

In short, if you can work on your ability to parse questions that contain a deeper meaning than their specific wording, you can make huge leaps in your ability to connect with women. 

5. Share Problems Without Attacking

When you’re talking about your hurt feelings, it can be easy for a conversation to slip into conflict if your complaints end up sounding too much like an attack. One way to get away from that is to change the way you frame your frustrations. 

“When you communicate with your partner, share problems from the ‘I’ perspective,” says Caraballo. “Instead of saying, ‘You did X’ and ‘Why did you do Y?,’ which breeds defensive behavior, try speaking from the personal ‘I’ and saying, ‘I felt hurt when you did X’ or ‘I felt so frustrated and confused when you did Y.’ This can help reduce misunderstandings and demonstrate patience and compassion rather than your communication feeling like an attack on their character or personhood.”

RELATED: How Listening Is the Sexiest Skill a Man Can Develop

Not all men communicate the same way, and not all women communicate the same way, but it’s hard to ignore that certain modes of communication end up being gendered more often than not. 

As a man, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with the way you communicate — but being able to understand how women approach communication, and the ways it’s different from the way you’re used to, can save you and the women you’re interacting with a lot of trouble. 

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Alex Manley, Khareem Sudlow

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