I know from experience that just seeing that word caused different reactions among readers who believe it exists or doesn’t exist, who find the term accurate or insulting, who now feel understood or irritated. And while this doesn’t capture the whole picture, the line of who reacted how can be drawn between female and male.
If you’re a woman, you’re far more likely to agree “mansplaining” happens, to say you’ve experienced it, and to object to its use. If you’re a man, you’re far more likely to disagree that it happens, to say you haven’t seen or done it, and to object to the use of that word.
But what if I told you that women tend toward a communication style that really irritates men? Have you ever heard a husband say, “I wish she’d just get to the point?”
Well, he’s got a point.
Women are more likely to meander in conversation, sharing personal stories, including details, and checking for understanding as they speak. We often do this because it’s not the point that matters as much as the connection we feel from interacting with the person we’re talking to.
But that’s not how many men approach communication. So it’s understandably annoying for him when figuring out the takeaway feels like an impossible game of Where’s Waldo?
Yes, we’re different.
I’m not highlighting “mansplaining” and “womeandering”—yes, I made that up, and it should totally become a word—to get us upset about the opposite gender’s real or perceived communication flaws. Rather, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about how men and women discuss sensitive topics.
From blog comment threads to Facebook post replies to my own interactions with my husband, I’m reminded how much our distinct perspectives play into conversational conflict.
Men tend to be more to the point, even gruff at times, to offer direct advice, and to feel disrespected when their feelings or points are not acknowledged. Meanwhile, women tend to tell stories as a way to convey that someone isn’t alone, to offer more detailed advice, and to feel personally hurt when their feelings or points are not acknowledged.
What’s your communication style?
Does this describe all men and women? Of course not. As I often say, stereotypes exist for a reason, but they’re not all-encompassing. The gender continuum really looks more like this:
So you may identify strongly with what I said above (the ends), more in the middle, or in that overlapping part where you’re more like the other gender. Okay, fine. And just to be clear—not identifying with something labeled as men/women doesn’t make you any less masculine or feminine. God just made a variety of us. Still, it’s helpful to understand some generalities to communicate well with the opposite gender on social media and in face-to-face conversation.
And be sure not to take the stereotype for granted with your own spouse. Rather, ask your beloved which, if any, of the following common gender differences apply to them.
|Converse for information
|Converse for connection
|Wants to get to the point
|Wants to share how she gets to the point
|Talks more easily shoulder-to-shoulder
|Talks more easily with eye contact
|Responds by offering solutions
|Responds by offering sympathy/empathy
|Display less tone variation and gestures
|Display more tone variation and gestures
|Views strong challenges as disrespectful
|Views strong challenges as insensitive
How does this apply to real life?
If you went back and read blog posts I wrote specifically to women and others specifically to men, you’d see a difference in how I communicate. I also change my approach in the comments section depending on who I’m dealing with, which includes what I can glean about their background and personality as well as their gender. Because men and women tend to respond differently to different approaches.
But too often, we forget this in regular conversation—here on my blog and on my Facebook page, but most especially in our marriages.
Indeed, I was flummoxed this past weekend when I said something I thought was helping my husband and he felt challenged and disrespected. I didn’t intend that, but looking back, I can see how it came across to him that way. The gap in perception was mostly about gender communication differences.
What’s the solution? Well, we each need to give a little. But the burden to adapt seems to lie more with the speaker. That’s what you see over and over and over in Scripture: commands and advice about how we speak to one another. Here’s a sampling:
- “Those who guard their mouths and their tongues keep themselves from calamity” (Proverbs 21:23).
- “Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless” (James 1:26).
- “Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones” (Proverbs 16:24).
- “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:19).
We won’t get it right every time. It really is hard to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. But it’s worth trying, because by making that effort we show love and respect to others, avoid some unnecessary conflict, and experience our own personal growth as we become more other-focused and simply kinder in how we communicate.
What it all means when talking to your spouse.
Now scroll back up and look at the table on what men and women tend to do. This time, instead of seeing whether you identify with the gender you are, ask what your spouse is like and how you could change your speech to cater to their needs. What if you both did that? Wouldn’t your discussions immediately become more productive?
I’m working on this, and I hope you will too.
And if you’re looking for ways to have more productive conversations about sexual intimacy, check out my recent release, Pillow Talk: 40 Conversations about Sex for Married Couples.
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