Battle of the Sexes: Male vs. Female Communication

November 18, 2012 at 9:29 pm 2 comments

By Noni Harrison

What is wrong with you?!  Ever ask that question about the opposite sex?   Have you ever had a frustrating conversation at work where you and a partner of the opposite gender just can’t reach a common ground? Your frustration is probably not because the other person is crazy or that he or she comes from another planet. (Although we would like to think so.) The problem is that men and women tend to communicate differently. Our differences in communication styles cause us to often misread, misinterpret and make assumptions about what is expressed to us by the opposite sex.

Early Stages of Gender Differences

Most people do not consider that from the moment you are born, you become entwined with the process of gender socialization.  Unconsciously, parents select clothes, toys, and games for their children to reinforce gender roles.  For example, young girls are often given dolls to socialize them into their potential role as a mother.  They are taught to nurture and care for the doll, which indirectly teaches them the value of caring for others.  Boys, in contrast, are given action figurines to promote aggressive characteristics.  As children grow up, gender norms and expectations are consistently strengthened based on the ethical, cultural, and religious values of their native society.

As a result of socialization, men and women learn to build relationships differently. Typically, young girls start building relationships based on making connections. Girls talk! Young girls sit on the phones for hours, probably running up their parents’ phone bill, to share experiences and secrets as well as discuss problems and possible solutions. Boys, in contrast, do not focus much on building relationships.  Boy-friend groups tend to be centered around activities rather than talking. Boys connect and become friends over things like sports or video games. These early differences in socialization cause young girls and boys to grow up with different interpersonal approaches.  Men’s and women’s  different interpersonal styles make it hard to communicate between genders, especially in a work environment. Understanding gender communication differences makes it easier for men and women to reach a common ground.

Understanding the Differences

Nonverbal Communication. Gender differences in nonverbal communication are often a result of differing purposes for communication. John Gray, author of Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, states that men generally communicate to transmit information and solve specific problems, while women usually communicate to express feelings and achieve emotional intimacy. Consequently, men and women tend to develop different nonverbal communication styles.

When it comes to nonverbal communication, women are expressive. The article “Do Men & Women use Nonverbal Communication Differently?” by David Carnes states that women use facial expressions to “convey their meaning on the intensity of their feelings.”   Women provide eye contact as a means to establish an emotional connection. Women typically use nonverbal communication more than men, and as a result they are effective at picking up on non-verbal cues. The same article states that men, on the other hand, are less expressive: “they are more conservative in facial movement and body contact.” [1] Men often require spatial distance; this space is what allows them to exert physical presence and maintain their masculine dominance.  Men also prefer face-to-face contact to maintain that spatial proximity.

Verbal Communication. Like I said before, girls love to talk. Author of the book You Just Don’t Understand, Deborah Tannen, states that females “use conversation to negotiate closeness and intimacy.”  In contrast she states that for boys, “conversation is the way you negotiate your status in the group and keep people from pushing you around; they use talk to preserve their independence.”  Differences in verbal communication have a lot to do with the way that boys and women are initially socialized.  Boys typically grow up playing games such as video games and sports. These games require low communication, with the ultimate goal of seeing who the best is. Girls tend to grow up playing games such as house, jump rope and hand games. Girl games require more team-oriented interaction and detailed conversation; this being the reason girls tend to talk more.

Relationships vs. Goals. With the need for intimacy women are typically relationship-oriented. They have a need to develop strong relationships.  Forbes’  “4 Skills that Give Women a Sustainable Advantage over Men” states that women seek to be relationships specialists.  The article alludes to the tendency for women to focus on healthy, long-lasting relationships.  The article further states that “women are masters at facilitating connection points between people, resources, and relationships.”  Men, on the other hand, are goal-oriented. Their eyes are on the prize.   John Gray, author of Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, says “a man’s sense of self is defined through his ability to achieve results.” These two different objectives can often cause a problem when men and women work together, especially in a team setting. While women are more concerned with building relationships and coming to solutions collectively, men are more concerned with making sure they offer the best solution first.

Self Value.  According to Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D., of the Business Analyst Times, women have to feel cherished. They need to feel like they are an important factor within the workplace.  Men want to feel needed.  These differences in needs originate, as before, from the way we are socialized. Culture teaches men to be the providers and the protection for their families. Therefore, they typically are most content when they can fulfill their role as a provider for those in need. Women are typically socialized to nurturer or the care-giver of the family. Cherishment is reinforcement of that role.

Along with being cherished, women demand respect. They feel the need to make sure they are being well respected and taken seriously in all situations. Because of this need, women tend to exert their power, which can sometimes be mistaken by men as being too aggressive or overly emotional. Men want appreciation and admiration. Men strive to achieve results so that can be admired by their counterparts.  Men’s desire to be admired often makes them overly confident and arrogant to many women. This further complicates the communication process between men and women.

So where do we go from here?  We must recognize that men and women do have communication differences.  These distinctions are often a result from the different ways in which we are socialized. We shouldn’t take certain gestures or words from the opposite sex to heart, because there is a big possibility we just don’t understand them.  The article “Closing the Gender Gap: Communication Styles of Women vs. Men” by Beverly Y. Langford offers some solid ground rules for interacting with the opposite sex. Hopefully, you will take them into consideration next time you interact with the opposite sex. Remember we all can’t be crazy; we just have to take the time to understand each other.

Ground Rules for Women
Here are Langford’s points to remember when communicating with men:

  • Don’t misread certainty as an unwillingness to discuss. Challenge the authoritative statement.
  • Minimize hedging. Realize that it can undermine your authority.
  • Be brief. Not many men think women don’t talk enough.
  • Hold your ground. If your male colleague interrupts you, politely remind him that you weren’t finished.

Ground Rules for Men
Try Langford’s communication tactics:

  • Don’t misread hedges or frequent questions as uncertainty.
  • Take time to build relationships.
  • Never patronize or talk down to your female colleague.
  • At times, ask rather than tell.
  • Remember that “please” and “thank you” go a long way in establishing rapport



Entry filed under: Cultural Communication, Interpersonal, Speaking in Business.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Zach  |  November 24, 2012 at 10:47 pm

    I think these differences are especially important in interviews for jobs that are skewed toward one gender (for example, males tend to outnumber females in investment banking interviews, while the opposite is true for marketing interviews). If you are in the majority group, you must make a focused effort to demonstrate to the interview what separates you from the pack. If you are in the minority group, you should focus on convincing your interviewer that this industry is truly your industry of choice.

  • 2. Mark  |  November 26, 2012 at 8:27 pm

    This is a great post Noni. It’s well written and clearly reflects thorough research on an interesting topic.
    I really like how you started off at the root of the situation and explained how gender socialization affects who we are from the very moment we return home from the hospital. As a male, I can certainly relate to some of the points made in your paragraph on, “The Early Stages of Gender Differences”. From my earliest memories until today, I know that whenever I am with friends we need to be doing an activity, and it usually entails competing to see who is the best in our group at that particular activity.


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