While my wife and I were hanging out with a close friend last night, I was once again reminded of the serious communication barriers that exist between men and women. And while I am no true expert at relationships, I would like to think that my years of hanging out with girls has given me some insights into why each group seems to say one thing and mean another.
(Anyone that knows me personally will also know the following example. It is how I normally teach people this communication topic, and it is based on a real event (Ryan, you were there.).)
Say that there are two guys sitting in a room, and one of the guys is cold because there is an open window in a room. (Assume for the moment that he is ignoring the overwhelming need to not complain about being cold because it would make him look weak.) Here is how the conversation would go down:
GUY #1: Hey, I’m cold. Do you mind if I shut the window?
GUY #2: Go for it.
And that’s it.
Now let’s replace the cold guy with a cold girl. How does this change the dynamic of the conversation?
GIRL: Are you cold?
GUY: What? No, I’m fine.
GIRL: So… you’re not cold?
GUY: No, I’m fine. Why?
GIRL: It doesn’t matter.
(More tense silence.)
GUY: Why are you pouting?
GIRL: I’m not pouting.
(Tense silence punctuated by GIRL occasionally muttering to herself and huffing angrily.)
GUY: Seriously, why are you pissed off?
GIRL: I’m not pissed off. I’m fine, okay?
(Tense silence for about 30 seconds, followed by GIRL storming out of the room to go sit angrily on bed. GUY sits on couch in a state of confusion, waits until commercial, and goes to bedroom.)
GUY: Okay, clearly you’re pissed off about something. What’s the problem?
GIRL: You don’t even care. It’s like you wish I were dead, like you can’t even be bothered to get up off the couch and make sure that I don’t die of pneumonia. I can’t even believe how self-centered you are.
GUY: Are you on your period or something?
(Scene of unimaginable carnage.)
Let’s break this down for a minute. In the first example with the two guys, certain assumptions were in play. Let’s call them Male Assumptions:
Male Assumption #1: When I want or need something, I will ask for it directly. Failing this I will simply go ahead and do it.
Male Assumption #2: When I say something, I will assume that its meaning will be taken at face value from the words I have spoken.
Male Assumption #3: Silence means that I have nothing to say.
Male Assumption #4: Everyone else in the world operates under Male Assumptions #1, #2, and #3 including females.
It doesn’t take much to see why two men can get by on a minimum of words. They say what they mean. They assume that the other one is doing that as well. It also explains the issue in the second example, since he assumed that what Girl was saying was what she meant. He needed access to the Female Assumptions:
Female Assumption #1: When I say something, I shouldn’t have to say what I mean; it should be obvious no matter how I say it.
Female Assumption #2: When someone says something to me, I need to figure out the real meanings and motivations behind what they are saying. They are trying to tell me something, but it is not what their words actually are.
Female Assumption #3: Silence means anger, sadness, hurt, shame, or guilt. Sometimes it is a combination of some or all of these things.
Female Assumption #4: Everyone else in the world operates under Female Assumptions #1, #2, and #3 including males.
The Female Assumptions have a tendency to lead women into thinking that men are subtle, intelligent creatures. This is, of course, false. In the realm of communication, women are delicate paintbrushes, artfully constructing realities with delicate and subtle strokes. By contrast, men are hammers, things that are blunt and direct and prone to damaging as much as they fix.
Assuming that men are playing games with words will lead to the kind of downhill slide into violence shown by the GUY/GIRL example above.
Now I have to go deal with my wife. She’s mad at me for something, but I think that it’s just the pregnancy hormones.