Male and Female Communication: Differences Worth Noting

Reviewed Apr 7, 2015

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Summary

  • Women want intimacy in conversation, to feel connected to others.
  • Men want to give information while remaining independent of the other party. 

Male or female, we all have the same basic human need to be understood by others, to communicate. One trait that can greatly influence the way we communicate is our sex. We may not agree with every theory of the differences between male and female communication, but we do notice some differences in the sexes when it’s time to talk, don’t we?

What follows might help us grow more aware of these differences and understand the opposite sex a little better.

“Report” versus “rapport”

Deborah Tannen, linguistics professor and author of You Just Don’t Understand, believes that men and women differ in the focus, or driving force, behind their communication. According to Tannen, men converse with a focus on achieving social status and avoiding failure, while women focus on achieving personal connection and avoiding social isolation. Men want to report, women want rapport. Not that men don’t value involvement or women status, but these aren’t as important for either.

Tannen offers these descriptions—see if any of these fit you and others you know:

  • Women desire intimacy in conversation, to feel connected to others.
  • Men desire to give information while remaining independent of the other party.
  • Women try to avoid the appearance of “superiority.”
  • Men are comfortable telling others what to do and appearing “superior.”
  • Women want to reach consensus and consult with others before deciding.
  • Men want to get straight to the bottom line and choose without consulting.
  • Women communicate to build relationships.
  • Men communicate to give information, solve problems and show expertise. 

Neither focus is better or more correct than the other. It’s just the underlying motives that differ. As an example of “report versus rapport,” a woman, upon hearing bad news from a man, might say, “I’m sorry” to show sympathy. The man, however, might wonder why she’s apologizing for something that isn’t her fault. She draws closer to connect, he hears her from his focus on status and problem solving.

Mars versus Venus

Another view on the differences in male and female communication comes from marriage therapist John Gray, PhD, author of Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. While Tannen emphasizes the different driving forces behind conversation in men and women, Gray distinguishes the overall styles of communication in the sexes. Here are some examples Gray provides:

  • Women use more words to make a point and express more feelings.
  • Men use fewer words and express fewer feelings.
  • Women use conversation to think through a problem and work toward a solution.
  • Men think through a problem privately, then express the solution as the bottom line.
  • Women give feedback with tact, tentativeness and sensitivity to the other person’s feelings.
  • Men give feedback directly and with bluntness, without the intention that it should be taken personally. 
  • Women often change the topic in the middle of a conversation, then return to it later.
  • Men tend to finish one topic before going on to the next.  

Once again, neither style is right or wrong, just different. Imagine the frustration of a man listening to his wife or female co-worker think through her problem out loud—veering often off the subject then returning to it—only to find that she didn’t really want him to solve her problem, but rather to be her sounding board. Imagine her hurt feelings when she senses that he’s mad at her but won’t tell her how he feels.  

He says, she says

Another expert theory comes from speech pathologist Lillian Glass, PhD, author of He Says, She Says: Closing the Gap Between the Sexes. In her book, Glass lists specific traits that are reported by researchers to differ in male and female communication:

  • Women talk more about relationships. Men talk more about what they did, where they went, etc. 
  • Women tend to take verbal rejection more personally than men. 
  • Women are more likely than men to ask for help rather than figure things out on their own. 
  • Men appear less intuitive and aware of details than women. 
  • Women have a more emotional approach to problems. Men have a more analytical approach.
  • Men use fewer voice tones and facial expressions while communicating than women do. 
  • Men make more direct statements; there’s less “beating around the bush” with men than with women.  

Toward understanding

In our desire to be understood by others we must acknowledge that differences exist among us all and specifically between the sexes in how we communicate. We can become alert to our differences and work with them, nonjudgmentally, rather than struggle against them. The blend of male and female styles of communication should give us more leverage in solving problems, growing personally and living life.

Resources

Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus by John Gray, PhD. Harper Paperbacks, 2012.

You Just Don’t Understand by Deborah Tannen, PhD. Harper Collins, 2007.

By Laurie M. Stewart
Source: Torppa, Cynthia (2002) “Gender Issues: Communication Differences in Interpersonal Relationships” Family Tapestries; Sachs, Marilyn “Male/Female Communication Styles,” Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet; Men Are from Mars, Women Are From Venus by John Gray, PhD. Harper Collins, 1992; You Just Don’t Understand by Deborah Tannen, PhD. Ballantine Books, 1990; He Says, She Says: Closing the Communication Gap Between the Sexes by Lillian Glass, PhD. Putnam Publishing Group, 1993

Summary

  • Women want intimacy in conversation, to feel connected to others.
  • Men want to give information while remaining independent of the other party. 

Male or female, we all have the same basic human need to be understood by others, to communicate. One trait that can greatly influence the way we communicate is our sex. We may not agree with every theory of the differences between male and female communication, but we do notice some differences in the sexes when it’s time to talk, don’t we?

What follows might help us grow more aware of these differences and understand the opposite sex a little better.

“Report” versus “rapport”

Deborah Tannen, linguistics professor and author of You Just Don’t Understand, believes that men and women differ in the focus, or driving force, behind their communication. According to Tannen, men converse with a focus on achieving social status and avoiding failure, while women focus on achieving personal connection and avoiding social isolation. Men want to report, women want rapport. Not that men don’t value involvement or women status, but these aren’t as important for either.

Tannen offers these descriptions—see if any of these fit you and others you know:

  • Women desire intimacy in conversation, to feel connected to others.
  • Men desire to give information while remaining independent of the other party.
  • Women try to avoid the appearance of “superiority.”
  • Men are comfortable telling others what to do and appearing “superior.”
  • Women want to reach consensus and consult with others before deciding.
  • Men want to get straight to the bottom line and choose without consulting.
  • Women communicate to build relationships.
  • Men communicate to give information, solve problems and show expertise. 

Neither focus is better or more correct than the other. It’s just the underlying motives that differ. As an example of “report versus rapport,” a woman, upon hearing bad news from a man, might say, “I’m sorry” to show sympathy. The man, however, might wonder why she’s apologizing for something that isn’t her fault. She draws closer to connect, he hears her from his focus on status and problem solving.

Mars versus Venus

Another view on the differences in male and female communication comes from marriage therapist John Gray, PhD, author of Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. While Tannen emphasizes the different driving forces behind conversation in men and women, Gray distinguishes the overall styles of communication in the sexes. Here are some examples Gray provides:

  • Women use more words to make a point and express more feelings.
  • Men use fewer words and express fewer feelings.
  • Women use conversation to think through a problem and work toward a solution.
  • Men think through a problem privately, then express the solution as the bottom line.
  • Women give feedback with tact, tentativeness and sensitivity to the other person’s feelings.
  • Men give feedback directly and with bluntness, without the intention that it should be taken personally. 
  • Women often change the topic in the middle of a conversation, then return to it later.
  • Men tend to finish one topic before going on to the next.  

Once again, neither style is right or wrong, just different. Imagine the frustration of a man listening to his wife or female co-worker think through her problem out loud—veering often off the subject then returning to it—only to find that she didn’t really want him to solve her problem, but rather to be her sounding board. Imagine her hurt feelings when she senses that he’s mad at her but won’t tell her how he feels.  

He says, she says

Another expert theory comes from speech pathologist Lillian Glass, PhD, author of He Says, She Says: Closing the Gap Between the Sexes. In her book, Glass lists specific traits that are reported by researchers to differ in male and female communication:

  • Women talk more about relationships. Men talk more about what they did, where they went, etc. 
  • Women tend to take verbal rejection more personally than men. 
  • Women are more likely than men to ask for help rather than figure things out on their own. 
  • Men appear less intuitive and aware of details than women. 
  • Women have a more emotional approach to problems. Men have a more analytical approach.
  • Men use fewer voice tones and facial expressions while communicating than women do. 
  • Men make more direct statements; there’s less “beating around the bush” with men than with women.  

Toward understanding

In our desire to be understood by others we must acknowledge that differences exist among us all and specifically between the sexes in how we communicate. We can become alert to our differences and work with them, nonjudgmentally, rather than struggle against them. The blend of male and female styles of communication should give us more leverage in solving problems, growing personally and living life.

Resources

Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus by John Gray, PhD. Harper Paperbacks, 2012.

You Just Don’t Understand by Deborah Tannen, PhD. Harper Collins, 2007.

By Laurie M. Stewart
Source: Torppa, Cynthia (2002) “Gender Issues: Communication Differences in Interpersonal Relationships” Family Tapestries; Sachs, Marilyn “Male/Female Communication Styles,” Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet; Men Are from Mars, Women Are From Venus by John Gray, PhD. Harper Collins, 1992; You Just Don’t Understand by Deborah Tannen, PhD. Ballantine Books, 1990; He Says, She Says: Closing the Communication Gap Between the Sexes by Lillian Glass, PhD. Putnam Publishing Group, 1993

Summary

  • Women want intimacy in conversation, to feel connected to others.
  • Men want to give information while remaining independent of the other party. 

Male or female, we all have the same basic human need to be understood by others, to communicate. One trait that can greatly influence the way we communicate is our sex. We may not agree with every theory of the differences between male and female communication, but we do notice some differences in the sexes when it’s time to talk, don’t we?

What follows might help us grow more aware of these differences and understand the opposite sex a little better.

“Report” versus “rapport”

Deborah Tannen, linguistics professor and author of You Just Don’t Understand, believes that men and women differ in the focus, or driving force, behind their communication. According to Tannen, men converse with a focus on achieving social status and avoiding failure, while women focus on achieving personal connection and avoiding social isolation. Men want to report, women want rapport. Not that men don’t value involvement or women status, but these aren’t as important for either.

Tannen offers these descriptions—see if any of these fit you and others you know:

  • Women desire intimacy in conversation, to feel connected to others.
  • Men desire to give information while remaining independent of the other party.
  • Women try to avoid the appearance of “superiority.”
  • Men are comfortable telling others what to do and appearing “superior.”
  • Women want to reach consensus and consult with others before deciding.
  • Men want to get straight to the bottom line and choose without consulting.
  • Women communicate to build relationships.
  • Men communicate to give information, solve problems and show expertise. 

Neither focus is better or more correct than the other. It’s just the underlying motives that differ. As an example of “report versus rapport,” a woman, upon hearing bad news from a man, might say, “I’m sorry” to show sympathy. The man, however, might wonder why she’s apologizing for something that isn’t her fault. She draws closer to connect, he hears her from his focus on status and problem solving.

Mars versus Venus

Another view on the differences in male and female communication comes from marriage therapist John Gray, PhD, author of Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. While Tannen emphasizes the different driving forces behind conversation in men and women, Gray distinguishes the overall styles of communication in the sexes. Here are some examples Gray provides:

  • Women use more words to make a point and express more feelings.
  • Men use fewer words and express fewer feelings.
  • Women use conversation to think through a problem and work toward a solution.
  • Men think through a problem privately, then express the solution as the bottom line.
  • Women give feedback with tact, tentativeness and sensitivity to the other person’s feelings.
  • Men give feedback directly and with bluntness, without the intention that it should be taken personally. 
  • Women often change the topic in the middle of a conversation, then return to it later.
  • Men tend to finish one topic before going on to the next.  

Once again, neither style is right or wrong, just different. Imagine the frustration of a man listening to his wife or female co-worker think through her problem out loud—veering often off the subject then returning to it—only to find that she didn’t really want him to solve her problem, but rather to be her sounding board. Imagine her hurt feelings when she senses that he’s mad at her but won’t tell her how he feels.  

He says, she says

Another expert theory comes from speech pathologist Lillian Glass, PhD, author of He Says, She Says: Closing the Gap Between the Sexes. In her book, Glass lists specific traits that are reported by researchers to differ in male and female communication:

  • Women talk more about relationships. Men talk more about what they did, where they went, etc. 
  • Women tend to take verbal rejection more personally than men. 
  • Women are more likely than men to ask for help rather than figure things out on their own. 
  • Men appear less intuitive and aware of details than women. 
  • Women have a more emotional approach to problems. Men have a more analytical approach.
  • Men use fewer voice tones and facial expressions while communicating than women do. 
  • Men make more direct statements; there’s less “beating around the bush” with men than with women.  

Toward understanding

In our desire to be understood by others we must acknowledge that differences exist among us all and specifically between the sexes in how we communicate. We can become alert to our differences and work with them, nonjudgmentally, rather than struggle against them. The blend of male and female styles of communication should give us more leverage in solving problems, growing personally and living life.

Resources

Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus by John Gray, PhD. Harper Paperbacks, 2012.

You Just Don’t Understand by Deborah Tannen, PhD. Harper Collins, 2007.

By Laurie M. Stewart
Source: Torppa, Cynthia (2002) “Gender Issues: Communication Differences in Interpersonal Relationships” Family Tapestries; Sachs, Marilyn “Male/Female Communication Styles,” Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet; Men Are from Mars, Women Are From Venus by John Gray, PhD. Harper Collins, 1992; You Just Don’t Understand by Deborah Tannen, PhD. Ballantine Books, 1990; He Says, She Says: Closing the Communication Gap Between the Sexes by Lillian Glass, PhD. Putnam Publishing Group, 1993

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