Although modern science has more or less confirmed that men and women are not, in fact, from different planets, there are still some real differences in how men and women communicate. The following differences won’t be true for everyone, but if you’re trying to understand a man or woman in your life better, consider that some of the following factors may be at play in how you communicate with one another.
Sharing Air Time
It’s a common stereotype that women talk more than men. This can be true, but depends largely on the context. While women tend to talk more than men when they are out with friends, in groups of mixed genders, men tend to take more of the air time, especially when at work. One factor at play is that when interrupted in conversation, women are more likely to yield to the person doing the interrupting. Some studies show that men are interrupted with similar frequency, but are less likely to back down until their thought is finished. Studies show that if women speak in ways that are associated with authority, they are more likely to be seen as aggressive than men are—so it makes sense why they may be more yielding in conversation.
Body Language Differences
An interesting theory has developed among evolutionary psychologists that some of the key differences in men’s and women’s body language can be traced back to our days as hunter-gatherers. Men were primarily hunters, and thus would spend their days shoulder to shoulder with their companions, scanning the horizon and tracking game. Women were more likely to be caring for children and preparing meals, which gave them the opportunity to spend time socializing face to face. Many psychologists think we still are feeling the effects of this today. Men often like to sit side by side as they chat, perhaps watching a game or a concert. Women often prefer to face each other and make more eye contact.
So if you’re out to eat at your favorite restaurant in Park City or Salt Lake City with someone who’s of a different gender than you, they may want to sit directly across from you or to the side of you. Even if you’re not a big fan of their chosen seating arrangements, remember that this might be a pattern from our ancestors that’s still with us today.
Perhaps tied to the fact that women prefer face-to-face exchanges, they are also more likely to use nonverbals such as gestures and facial expressions to communicate in addition to verbal language. You may have noticed that women tend to nod along more to show that they are listening to a speaker, and not necessarily to show agreement. This is a good example of women’s use of nonverbal communication.
Different Expectations of Intimacy
Women are still socialized to be interested in and talk about feelings. Men are more likely to prefer topics of conversation that are less self-revealing and more external. For women, self-revelation is a way of bonding and feeling close to the people in their lives. Men may self-reveal more sparingly, perhaps only in close romantic or familial relationships.
One subtle, but very real difference, is that men do not give and receive compliments as often as women do. Women tend to give compliments as a way of bonding with someone else and showing that person that they are trustworthy. On the contrary, when men give compliments, it can often be a way of flirting or of showing interest in a potential partner.
When it comes to conflict, science generally holds that men are more aggressive but reconcile much more easily. This is another trend that we may thank evolution for, and it’s called the “male warrior hypothesis.” The basic idea is that men would have to compete with other men for dominance within their tribe, but still band together to defend the group from outside sources of danger. So when conflict would arise between men of the same group, it would need to be dealt with quickly and then resolved. Women, who in contrast would rely more on close familial ties, would invest in a few close relationships but did not need to focus as much on maintaining a large network of allies. Even though these situations are not necessarily applicable modern-day Utah, they still affect how men and women have evolved to handle conflict.
Although each person is different and may not fit into these generalities, keeping these differences in mind might help you understand other genders better. The next time you find yourself in a situation where communication is a bit tense, ask yourself if some of these factors might be at play.