Editor’s Note: This blog was written by both Mark and his wife Melanie. They’ve learned a lot about communication and have a load of wisdom to share with you! Enjoy.
Last year a middle school boy asked me, “Why did the Jews wander in the desert for forty years?”
In an effort to be funny I said, “Because men were in charge . . . and we don’t stop to ask for directions.”
It was a stupid joke, to be sure – it was an old joke steeped partly in truth and partly in male stereotypes. What shocked me, though, was that only the adults in the room laughed. He had never heard this age-old stereotype of men (not asking for directions) before. His life had always known a world with GPS. He was perplexed.
Stereotypes and generalizations about the differences between men and women can be humorous . . . but they are also part of the problem. Yes, some women make decisions based more on emotion and some men more on “logic,” but to say all women or all men is not only short-sighted, it’s dishonest. I know plenty of guys who are more emotional than their female counterpart and plenty of women who are more logical in their thinking. Watching people interact reveals a lot more about who they really are than any generalization ever will.
Men and women communicate very differently, yes, but not just because of their gender. The questions they ask (or don’t ask), the details they share, and the points they find interesting differ greatly not based on their gender, but on their socialization, life experiences, beliefs, likes, and their struggles. To extend the GPS analogy a little further, some people share information in few words (most direct route) and some in long stories (scenic route); others, still, are so easily distracted by screens or other hazards that the signal is lost and the route not available.
Even books about, “how men and women communicate” often play off of the same generalizations regarding men and women. Many books simply offer that “men compartmentalize” things and “women multitask by using their emotions.” While not all books are bad and many theories prove generally true, the points are still just that, very general. Too many resources focus more on what divides the sexes rather than on what unifies us – they pit men and women against one another, which only furthers stereotypes and, in a weird way, empowers people to keep sucking at communication. It’s easier for a man to say, “That’s the just the way men are” than it is to say, “Tell me how I can get better.” Which response sounds more virtuous . . . more Godly?
Let’s put aside a few common generalizations, just to be clear:
- Guys, if a girl wants to talk that doesn’t make her “high maintenance.”
- Ladies, a guy who’s unable to express his emotions doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s self-involved or that he doesn’t care.
Yes, women want to be listened to . . . but so do men!
- Yes, women are often “better” at validating another’s feelings (i.e. nodding, affirming, repeating, agreeing, etc.) but much of that has to do with the way they socialize . . . just because many men don’t do that as naturally, it doesn’t mean they don’t care.
- Yes, men often want to “fix” the problem, not just listen to it. Women want to fix it, too, but once they know that the man knows what the problem really is.
None of these are bad things, necessarily, and the Lord can use all of these situations to help us grow in virtue and to teach us how to love better. People resolve conflicts differently. It’s not about “how men resolve conflict,” or “how women communicate”; it’s about, “what is God calling me to do in this moment,” or “how am I called to love this person right now?”
It’s Not About You
When we only focus on our feelings, we don’t really listen. The person across from us could be talking but we don’t actually hear them— we’re too focused on what we are going to say in response. The solution? Don’t make it about you.
Consider the person that you’re speaking with and how heavy their cross is. Don’t weigh yours and compare. You don’t know everything they’re battling. Say to yourself, “This man/woman’s cross is twice as heavy as mine is, Lord. Help me to love them well.”
Also, eye contact is important. How many times does the person you’re speaking to feel they have your undivided attention? Turn off screens – get away from them. Eye contact is the quickest and simplest way to acknowledge Christ in the other.
Now, if you’re having a “conversation” through a screen, ask yourself if that’s the best medium to be using to have that conversation. Words can be misread and mistaken. Do you ever text just “because you don’t want to get into a long conversation?” Go the extra mile. Don’t text when you can call. Don’t call when you can sit face to face. Don’t sit face to face and have your mind in another area code. A huge part of authentic communication is emotional presence, not only physical presence.
Use Question Marks
Learn to ask questions in your conversation. This has almost become a lost art form. Many people never stop to ask a question about others beyond the customary, “How are you?” True friends ask how you are doing and then wait for an answer. True Christian communication is rooted in something deeper. You’re not just encountering another body but another soul; you’re encountering Christ in that person.
Everyone has a story, a struggle, a hope, and a goal. If you really care about someone you want to know about them and you want to go deeper— asking questions is the primary way to accomplish that. It’s here that communication goes from being self-centered to other-centered.
I Appreciate You
Learn to appreciate your differences. You will approach topics and situations differently and that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Differences are good.
The opposite sex is there to help you grow in holiness, so be open to their insights. Challenge each other – humility is what helps genders remain complementary, but pride causes the sexes to become contradictory. Appreciate how others communicate and affirm the ways they do it well. At the same time, seek ways to help them get to know themselves, you and others better and gently offer example and (if necessary) guidance on how to best communicate with you.
As we learned from the Israelites in the Old Testament, men (and women) often need direction to help get them to their desired destination.
If your desired destination is heaven, consider the Holy Spirit as your Divine GPS, and the opposite sex is riding shotgun, helping you to navigate the directions while wandering through this (often challenging) desert called life.