That women and men communicate very differently is an idea that has attracted the attention of the media since the 1990s. The debate has been so intense and the variations so apparent, that such books as 'Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus', which postulate that the two genders must have originated from different planets, have become some of the century's bestsellers. It is precisely because of these differences that men and women would often interpret the same message differently, and it is for the very same reason that the 'battle of the sexes' would often arise. Women are highly sensitive to the feelings of others, and would often use conversations to build interpersonal relationships and establish lasting rapports. Men, on the other hand, are often less attuned to the feelings of others, and often take conversations as a competitive sport or as nothing more than a simple way of exchanging information. It is prudent to understand these differences because it is only in understanding them that people can effectively address the resultant implications and effects.
The Communication Differences between Men and Women
Boys and girls begin to interact more in gender-based groups from about age five (James & Peltier, 1998). These groups are characterized by unique features; boy groups are usually tougher and are based on dominance and competition more than they are on cooperation and cohesion (James & Peltier, 1998). Girl groups are the exact opposite; they focus on building intimate friendships, and usually display readiness to maintain social relations (James & Peltier, 1998). These behaviors are carried through adolescence to adulthood, and are depicted in the styles and manner in which the two genders communicate.
Like warriors, men are usually competition-oriented and love to call attention to themselves in public places (James & Peltier, 1998). Women, on the other hand, are highly sensitive to the feelings of others, and would often take on non-confrontational approaches that are aimed at ensuring positive social relations are built and sustained (James & Peltier, 1998). The communication traits depicted above can be summarized into four gender-related dimensions;
This text derives its basis from the findings of a research study that sought to establish how the four traits above differ between men and women. Hypotheses H1-H4 below formed the basis of that research study, the findings of which have been expounded on in the subsequent subsections of this text.
H1: Dominance/control is a more male-oriented trait
H2: Fairness is a more female-oriented trait.
H3: Women are greater conveyors of emotion, through communication
H4: Feedback/listening is a more female-oriented trait
Dominance/Control Traits: men make use of power-interactive strategies in their interactions and usually view conversations as platforms through which they can negotiate desired outcomes, show their autonomy and maintain their authority (James & Peltier, 1998). For this reason, men display more aggressiveness in interpersonal communication, in an attempt to maintain dominance and control (Beasley, 2005). Unlike women, men are more settled in public arenas, and are more comfortable calling attention to themselves, even if it means interrupting and stepping on others' toes (James & Peltier, 1998). As Beasley (2005) points out, men "communicate in a hierarchical, goal-oriented style viewed as authoritative, decisive, and efficient" (p. 91). Women, on the other hand, are more relational, often strive to build and maintain relationships through conversations, and usually "communicate with a focus on the process and the engagement of others in reaching goals and making decisions" (Beasley, 2005, p. 91).
Fairness Traits: women are more social-oriented and more respectful of others' perspectives (Torppa, 2010). For this reason, women often find it difficult to criticize, and are, compared to men, likely to take into consideration the views expressed by others (James & Peltier, 1998). Traditional cultures and values conventionally place women below men, and owing to this, women tend to treat all people as equals, and are perceived as displaying higher levels fairness, empathy, and interpersonal trust (James & Peltier, 1998). It is this emphasis on fairness that makes women more "willing to apologize than men when they think it is the right thing to do" (James & Peltier, 1998).
Emotional Traits: past empirical studies have established that, compared to men, women are more comfortable sharing their emotions with other people (James & Peltier, 1998). Research findings consistent with this orientation reveal that women tend to express specific emotions, which include distress, guilt, and fear (James & Peltier, 1998). However, two particular emotions -- disgust / contempt and anger -- have been found to be male-oriented (James & Peltier, 1998).
Feedback/Listening traits: women are more social-oriented, supportive, tender-minded, and nurturing than men, and tend to "view talking as a way of connecting with others emotionally" (Cameron, 2008, p. 11). They are more likely to interact with others pleasantly, maintain harmony in their interactions, verbally support the ideas of others, and pay attention to the views expressed by others (Cameron, 2008). In an attempt to build social relations, women are more likely to listen, and are perceived as being more willing to resolve issues amicably and through consensus (James & Peltier, 1998).
How These Differences Come into Play in Day-to-Day Conversations
The hypothetical case illustrated below puts the communication trait differences discussed above into perspective by showing how they could give rise to misunderstandings.
She: be sure to call me when you get home, so that I know you are safe
He: You are overreacting; just trust that I will arrive safely, and that nothing bad will happen; and anyway, should anything bad happen, you will obviously hear about it.
(Source: Torppa, 2010, p. 2)
In this case, what the 'she' is trying to communicate is that she cares and is really concerned about the 'he's safety. The 'he' does not, however, take it that way; he takes this as an infringement on privacy. In his interpretation, what the 'she' means is, "you had better check in with me; I want to know where you are, who you are with, and what you are doing at all times" (Torppa, 2010, p. 2).
What Brings About These Differences?
Gender influences the way people converse and, by extension, how they interact with others. Three fundamental elements have been found to influence the way people talk (Cameron, 2008). The three are identities, habitual activities, and social networks (Cameron, 2008). Gender contributes significantly to all the three. The social networks of most people are composed "of close friends of the same gender" (Cameron, 2008, p. 11). These people grow to become linguistic role-models because a lot of time is spent talking to them (Cameron, 2008). Habitual activities are highly based on gender preferences, which is why boys would spend more time playing, and girls, shopping or catching up with their peers (Cameron, 2008). On another note, it is through conversations that people express their identities, and identities are largely dependent on gender (Cameron, 2008). A person's linguistic choice speaks a lot about whom they like, and who they feel they are different from (Cameron, 2008).
The Importance of Understanding These Differences
It is important that people understand the differences in the communication traits of men and women because it is only through such understanding that misunderstandings such as the one discussed in the hypothetical example above can be avoided. Interpersonal effectiveness begins with this kind of understanding, and is crucial for practice, personal, and professional success. Understanding these differences is, therefore, crucial for effective leadership, and team cohesion.
Leadership: thanks to women empowerment efforts, more women are taking up leadership roles and, generally, the workplace is becoming more diverse in terms of culture, ethnicity, and gender. Communication is a fundamental determinant of effectiveness in leadership. Women in leadership positions ought to learn how to handle both genders; they need to become organizational savvy and "more effective when communicating, motivating, managing, or presenting to the opposite sex" (Schmitt, 2012, p. 61). For instance, in as much as effective leadership entails interacting and building personal relations with employees, male employees may see a leader who engages too much as being either too pushy, or infringing on their personal space, whereas female employees are likely to prefer such a leader, because he/she gives them an opportunity to build relations at a more personal level (Torppa, 2010)
Teamwork: virtual, as well as physical teams are becoming more common at the workplace. Maintaining team cohesion is vital for team success. Understanding the communication differences between men and women is the key to reducing "communication misfires, unresolved conflicts, or hidden resentments" in a team (Schmitt, 2012, p. 61).
Success in today's competitive marketplace is a co-ed effort, and one cannot achieve success "without understanding how to genuinely communicate and connect with that individual of the opposite sex" (Schmitt, 2012, p. 61).
The Implications of these Differences in Communication Traits
Disparities in Leadership: differences in communication traits have been found to put women in a precarious situation with regard to leadership (Merchant, 2012). Women…