Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet

Family and Consumer Sciences
1787 Neil Ave., Columbus, OH 43210

Male/Female Communication Styles


Marilyn A. Sachs

    Men and women have been misunderstanding each other for generations -- probably since the beginning of time. Numerous research articles and books have been written on the subject, with all of them drawing the same conclusion: Men and women speak different languages.

    Researchers say that we spend 70 percent of our awake time communicating, and 30 percent of our communication is talking. And, no matter what we do, we all have to speak to the opposite sex at some time in our lives -- fathers, mothers, siblings, schoolmates, bosses, co-workers. It is essential that we learn to communicate with each other.

    There have been many attempts to explain the gender differences in communication with heredity and environment at the top of the list. Parts of the language differences are due to genetic makeup. Babies are born male or female; their brains develop differently and at different rates.

    Language differences are also due in part to our social experiences. Born into the same world, we are socialized to live in different worlds. We respond to boys and girls differently. Our expectations of them are different. Behavior that we tolerate from one sex may be less acceptable from the other sex. For example, boys yell, girls cry.

    These same gender differences, whether genetic or learned, become parts of the communication pattern that stays with us for life. Generally speaking, in our society boys and men are seen as aggressive, independent and objective. Girls and women are seen as submissive, dependent and subjective.

    In general, men talk to give information or to report. They talk about things -- business, sports, and food -- rather than people. They convey facts, not details. They are goal-oriented. They focus on solving problems and are less likely to ask for help or directions. Men compete.

    Women, on the other hand, talk to get information and to connect or to gain rapport. They talk about people rather than things. They convey feelings and details. They are relationship oriented. They are quicker to ask for and accept help or directions. Women cooperate.

    These differences can create conflict between the sexes socially, professionally and intimately. The advice most frequently given is for men and women to understand and respect their differences and similarities. We all belong to the same human race with the same fears, desires and needs. Our survival depends on our willingness to understand and be understood.

    For more information on the subject of male/female communication, read one of the following books, all of which were used in the preparation of this fact sheet.

He Says, She Says: Closing the Communication Gap Between the Sexes, by Lillian Glass, Ph.D. NY: Putnam Publishing Group, 1993.

    Glass, a speech pathologist, identifies 105 gender differences in communication patterns involving five domains -- body language, facial language, speech and voice patterns, content, and behavior. Citing research findings and case examples, Glass discusses how these differences apply to three types of relationships -- personal, intimate and workplace. She suggests specific steps which men and women can take to improve communication with the opposite sex at all levels.

Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, by John Gray, Ph.D. NY: Harper Collins, 1992.

    Gray is an author, marriage therapist, husband and father of three children. Using a humorous story about men and women coming from different planets, he explains their differences in communication and resulting conflicts. He discusses gender differences in values, stresses, motivation, intimacy, emotions, conflict management, feelings, showing appreciation, and support systems as contributing factors in communication conflicts. Gray gives advice on how to overcome these differences to achieve a more satisfying, loving relationship between couples.

How to Talk to Your Husband/How to Talk to Your Wife, by Patti McDermott, M.F.C.C. Chicago, IL: Contemporary Books, 1994.

    McDermott, a couples therapist, identifies communication as the underlying problem that brings most couples to therapy. Her goal is to help men and women talk and listen to each other by reframing their conversation to get the desired response. She gives tools to help couples communicate on problems of intimacy, kids, money, sex and daily life.

You Just Don't Understand, by Deborah Tannen, Ph.D. NY: Ballantine Books, 1990.

    Tannen is a professor of linguistics at Georgetown University and author of nine books. She states that men and women speak different languages because they live in different worlds. Men use conversation to give information and to compete, while women use conversation to get information and to connect. She compares and contrasts the two different worlds and suggests ways to build a bridge between them.