Males and females may not be on two different planets…but they sometimes find it difficult to share common ground here on earth. In some ways the "opposite sex" often has very different growing up experiences and priorities which lead him or her to see, hear, and speak from a different point of view. Perhaps more important, males and females have much in common as human beings, partners, and friends. Appreciating typical differences in perspective--without overgeneralizing--and learning skills to communicate more effectively--especially when both partners learn--are keys to more satisfying relationships.
Typical Gender-Stereotyped Patterns
Males and females tend to have different patterns or values in communication which set up the relationship for misunderstanding. It's important to remember that the descriptions are not exclusive to each gender--you may find instances in which the typical "male" pattern fits the female or fits both partners (that has its own problems). Certain situations also lead to differences in perspective (i.e., career-oriented women with home-based spouses may reflect non-stereotypical patterns of status and affiliation). Again, differences do not spell disaster. It's how differences are handled that best predicts relationship satisfaction.
Pattern #1: Status vs. Affiliation
Men tend to be more
Status-oriented--concerned with place in the hierarchy, which provides a reward for achievements and access to future rewards (who's #1, what's my reputation)
Women tend to be more
Affiliation-oriented--concerned with emotional connections and building relationships, which provides a basis for disclosure and support (talking, caring)
Pattern #2: Independence vs. Intimacy-seeking
Men tend to be
Independence-seeking--insisting on personal space for decisions and action, joining and relating as a personal choice ("I'm my own man")
Women tend to be
Intimacy-seeking--requiring closeness and self-disclosure which establish and maintain close connections is a part of identity ("It’s our life together")
Pattern #3: Reason-focused vs Feeling-focused
Men tend to be
Reason-focused--preference for cognitive problem-solving and sharing facts in analysis ("I'll figure it out…explain it to you")
Women tend to be
Feeling-focused--attending to affective concerns, sharing troubles or feelings requiring closeness and self-disclosure which establish and maintain close connections as a part of identity ("It’s our life together")
Keys to Differences (where they occur):
Women and men…
Think back upon events you have shared together. While it's not great to focus on the negative, memories of conflicts and misunderstandings often illustrate gender stereotypes in communication. Consider how and how well the descriptions above fit the partners and the situations which created tensions and conflict. How could each of you learn from the other's perspective and skills, thus finding common ground and greater satisfaction. Talk about a small segment of a conflict--how did thoughts, feelings, responses begin to snowball out of proportion and what could each of you have done--perhaps contrary to your training or nature--to slow and reverse the negative exchange?
Source: Deborah Tannen. (1990). You just don't understand. New York: Ballentine.Developed by Ben Silliman, University of Wyoming Cooperative Extension Service, Family Life Specialist