Secrets of the Opposite Sex

Secrets of the Opposite Sex

Many jokes, problems, and conversations revolve around communications differences between men and women. Women are often teased for gabbing, nagging and chattering on about nothing. Men are often accused of not listening, not paying attention, or dominating the conversation when conversing with a woman. These problems occur because each gender routinely misinterprets the other's nonverbal and verbal listening cues.

During conversation, most women tend to give considerable nonverbal communications feedback, such as nodding and smiling, as well as frequent verbal feedback, like:

> "I know what you mean"

> "Uh, huh"

> "Right. Exactly!"

This type of feedback lets the speaker know he or she is making sense. It is the typically feminine communications style developed from childhood onward.

Most men, on the other hand, do not provide much nonverbal communications feedback, tending to remain silent when listening to a speaker. They focus on what the speaker is saying, and consider it to be polite to be expressionless and silent. This is the typically male communications style learned from early childhood. These differences in listening styles often cause dysfunctional communications between men and women.

When a man speaks with a woman, he may frequently misinterpret the listening cues provided by the woman because his primary experiences are with men; and vice versa.

Her nonverbal feedback (nodding and smiling) and verbal comments ("I know what you mean," etc.) are usually merely intended by her to indicate that she understands his point and that he is making sense. His usual interpretation, however, is that she is providing significant encouragement for him to keep on talking! Because most men find it difficult to resist such positive encouragement, it is not surprising that they may appear to dominate such conversations.

When a woman speaks with a man, she may often misread his listening cues. His normally sparse nonverbal feedback (little or no change in facial expression) and general silence while she is speaking are usually intended by him to indicate that he is paying close attention and concentrating on her words.

Her usual interpretation, however, is that he must be bored and/or she is not making sense to him. Because most women find it difficult to proceed under such negative circumstances, a typical reaction is to cut short additional remarks, or to repeat some things for attempted clarification, or even to ask if he understands what she said. He may then misinterpret her reaction to be an indication that she was just gabbing, or chattering, that she was nagging him, or that she is unsure of what she was saying. Each becomes a victim of his/her own listening cues, while the stereotypical gender differences are reinforced and passed on as absolute truths!

To help make mixed gender conversations work more smoothly, men and women need to understand more about the other's listening cues. Men should try to provide more nonverbal and verbal feedback while listening to female speakers.

They should also realize that the typically more demonstrative verbal and nonverbal feedback provided by women is generally intended as subtle encouragement for the speaker - it is not a rousing endorsement of the speaker's oratory skills. Women should learn not to be overly concerned if the men they are talking with don't provide the scope of listening cues they are accustomed to receiving. They should understand that, usually, if a male listener is quiet and stone-faced, he is listening intently.

So ladies, if you see that face, don't ask him if he understands what you just said!

Kirstin Carey is a consultant, award winning speaker, and author of "PowHERful Communications for Women Who Want to be Heard." As a woman business owner, Kirstin fully understands what is necessary for women to be successful entrepreneurs. To find out how you too can love your business everyday and live the entrepreneurial life you want, visit

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