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Difficulties in communication between men and women. S. Hamilton, MA: Center for Youth Studies

Borgman, D. (1998). Difficulties in communication between men and women. S. Hamilton, MA: Center for Youth Studies.

OVERVIEW

In order to provoke discussion, rather than being scientific, let us assume some basic differences between men and women and the way they communicate. We are speaking of differences that stem from genetic and cultural factors or influences.

Even a tentative acceptance of this assumption demands extreme care in avoiding specific stereotypes or generalizations. And we should not hide behind assumed differences as a way to excuse or overlook hurtful or confusing communication.

The assumption revolves around such distinctions as the following:

  • Men tend to be interested in the world of action, achievement. Women tend to be concerned about quality of life in relationships, business and the home.
  • Men may communicate in an assertive, dominant, aggressive style. Women may respond in a defensive or submissive style.
  • To correct their cultural conditioning, men may be overly compliant or tentative, vague, confused or confusing.
  • To correct their cultural conditioning, women may be overly assertive, suspicious, or even angry without knowing it.

To the cultural programming implied above, we must add the power of socialization from a dysfunctional society, and for many today, the further influence of a dysfunctional family. Dysfunction of various types tend to repress feelings and encourage an unreasonable and unhealthy conformity. A strong desire or need to please and overlook slights and insults or aggressive intrusions may lead to co-dependency. Men and women may want to rescue or support troubled friends and family. Such co-dependency may support the dysfunction or addiction of the other and may tend to turn the rescuer into a victim.

Dysfunctional relationships and trying hard to be nice can lead to underlying anger and a critical spirit. Higher and higher expectancies can be placed on one’s self, and along with that comes a critical spirit generally.

The antidotes to dysfunction and co-dependency are a strong sense of identity and one’s autonomy, the setting of clear personal boundaries, an understanding of tough love, and a confident sense of self.

To deal with the negative release of critical feelings and the reality of feelings themselves, it is important to practice a kind of communication that avoids "you" judgments and centers on "I" statements of feelings.

[Rather than] "You always put me down like that."

[You might say] "When you say things like that, it makes me feel put down and worthless."

[Rather than] "You made me angry yesterday as you always do."

[You might say] "When I left you yesterday, I realized I was angry."

[Rather than] "That’s all you do...make me feel like a complete loser."

[You might say something like] "You have just reminded me of three things I’ve done poorly in the past year. Let’s talk about how we are feeling about each other right now. What have I done this weekend to make you upset with me?"

And further examples of "I" message:

"I agree with what you are saying. I believe that, too. But the way that argument can be used bothers me. I would like to talk about just how I am feeling about this."

"Let’s not talk about the rest of the school (church or office). Let’s be specific as to how you and I are feeling."

The antidote for confused communication is being real. But it can take real courage to be honest in our communication—especially of anger or of deep differences in beliefs or opinions. Before we "get real" in communication, we take time to find out if the other person or persons are ready for a deeper sharing of feelings and beliefs. Each relationship and group must consider and accept a particular level of interaction. We must be realistic or we will get hurt. It is important to accept that style and level and discuss growth and change and consequences (including the issues of trust, forgiveness and confidentiality) before going on to a deeper level.

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND DISCUSSION

  1. With what person and with what group do you enjoy the deepest and most satisfying conversations?
  2. With what do you most agree or disagree in the article above? How might you change this article or add to it?
  3. Do you see ways in which your conversation is growing deeper or more effective these days? How so or what would you like to change?

IMPLICATIONS

  1. Communication is an art and a skill. It is a large and important part of our lives. Yet, we give to little attention to developing better communication in the different aspects and arenas of our lives.
  2. Communication is based on relationships. We can’t really improve our communication without relating to ourselves and others more effectively.
Dean Borgman cCYS