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September 2016
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Dear Readers,

As the mother of a teenage boy I have a renewed interest in the art of communication, especially communication with men. It is well established that men and women approach communication differently. It is beneficial to all of our relationships to have an understanding of some of those differences. In this month's Featured Article I discuss the sometimes divergent goals that each of the genders have when approaching a conversation. Then in the Top Ten I have some suggestions for improved communication with men. I hope you find something helpful in this issue.

All My Best,
Barbara
Talking With Men

Whether because of nature or nurture, talking with men is different than talking with women. Studies, as well as our own experiences, have shown this to be true. I have a mini social lab in my own home. I have twins, one boy and one girl. They have a mutual friend, Todd. One day my daughter told me that she was worried about Todd because his girlfriend broke up with him and he was sad. Later that same day my son told me Todd was going to the game early to work on his pitching. I asked how Todd was feeling. My son said he didn't know, that my daughter exaggerates and if Todd did break up with his girlfriend he was fine with it. (In fact, Todd did and he wasn't. But, the charge of exaggeration did seem to hold water.) I was surprised that my son, whom I consider to be a sensitive person, was unaware of his friend's break up and resulting distress. Then I realized that it didn't occur to my son to ask about Todd's girlfriend any more than it occurred to Todd to talk about it. Heartache was simply not a topic of their conversations.

The popular book You Just Don't Understand by Deborah Tannen describes some prominent ways in which men and women differ in their styles and goals of conversation. First, women tend to use conversation to create and protect intimacy. Men tend to use conversation to establish and protect their independence and status. For example, I was recently meeting a female friend for lunch and I was late. When I arrived, I apologized for not planning my time better. She immediately forgave my tardiness and set about describing times she had done the same thing. Her goal was to connect with me. Whatever feeling she may have had about my being late she didn't want it to create distance at our lunch. She focused on what made us the same. Contrast this to two men sitting near us. When the second man arrived he apologized for being late and explained that the traffic back up at the entrance had been terrible. His friend asked the man from which direction he had approached the entrance. He then proceeded to explain that he was familiar with the intersection and therefore had approached from the opposite direction which had taken him out of his way but avoided the traffic and ultimately cut several minutes from his trip. This man did not focus on the commonality between him and his friend but instead on what set him apart. He seemed to want to demonstrate his superior navigational skills. To my female ears this was grounds for a chilly atmosphere at lunch, but they seemed quite comfortable with one another's company.

Now I don't mean to say that men don't desire or pursue intimacy in conversation or that women don't desire and pursue independence. We all do both, but as a baseline these tendencies hold true. It often works well when we are in same-gender conversations. We understand the unspoken messages. Problems can arise however when we are talking to the opposite sex without an awareness of our different goals of communication. It's like speaking a different language. Imagine the scene above with a man and a woman. The potential for miscommunication would be substantially increased.

In addition to differences in conversational styles, the tools we have given boys/men to deal with their inner experiences are sometimes lacking. We can intentionally or inadvertently teach them to downplay their feelings. This creates distance between them and the family members or friends who could be supportive. We often teach boys to talk in terms of what they think and neglect to give words to express how they feel. So, even if they want to talk about their feelings they may be honestly at a loss of how to do so.

If there is a man in your life with whom you are struggling to communicate you may want to try some of the ideas in the Top Ten. If you are a man or a woman who would like more help communicating effectively I am always available to help.

Tips For Talking With Men

Men and women communicate differently, and remembering that is the best way to improve our conversations. Here are a few specific suggestions for communicating with men.

1. Be where he is. Don't try to have important conversations over the phone or from another room. Men are visual thinkers. They need to see you to take in all the information. If they are looking at a computer screen while talking to you, they are missing some of your message.

2. Ask for what you want, first. Let him know if you have a problem you want help with, or a problem you just want him to listen to, or you want to share your day. Remember conversation is a goal oriented activity for men. If they know upfront that your goal is simply to be heard they are better able to turn off the urge to solve a problem.

3. Use fewer words. This is not an insult to either gender's style of communication, but rather an acknowledgement of the differences. If you have something important to communicate to a man don't couch it in a long explanation. Be direct.

4. Maintain eye contact. This is the best way to keep anyone engaged in conversation. With men it is also the quickest way to know if you have forgotten tips number 2 (he's busy searching for an answer) and 3 (his eyes are glazing over).

5. Don't multitask. He will consider it an indication of the level of importance of the conversation.

6. Don't say "We need to talk." Unless you are going to tell him what it is about. He will resent being left in the dark. ("How can I solve a problem if I don't know what it is?") That resentment will be a bad starting place for the conversation.

7. Choose a time and place. Try to give him enough time and mental space to devote to the conversation.

8. Don't ask him to guess. No one wins the guessing game. Tell him what is important to you.

9. When he is upset give him space. Men often want to think through their problems before discussing them. This is different from many women who work through their problems by discussing them.

10. Assume the best. When communication does break down start with the assumption that your partner is still on your team. Try to hear his words through the best possible interpretation then check to see if you are right.

Author's content used with permission, © Claire Communications

Barbara is a psychotherapist with over 20 years of experience helping individuals and couples to achieve happier, more fulfilling lives. She assists clients to better understand themselves, improve their relationships and develop more effective responses to life's problems.

Barbara always welcomes the opportunity to work with new clients.
Barbara Hill, LCSW-C
6236 Montrose Road
Rockville, MD 20852
Phone: (301) 340-3050
Website: barbarahill.co
Email: your_therapist1@yahoo.com
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Barbara Hill, LCSW-C · 6236 Montrose Road · Rockville, MD 20852 · USA