“If you only knew…” Differences in Gender Communication

Written by Terri Reddout

Do men and women communicate differently?


Experts researched how men and women communicate and found there are many differences between the genders.  Now, these differences don’t apply to everyone but they do represents some generalities in the way each gender approaches communication.

Our friends from the TV show Friends give us an excellent example.  (Watch the video. It’s only 1:02. It will make the rest of this blog easier to understand.)

As Phoebe, Rachel and Monica demonstrated, females tend to focus on details, the emotions, the thought process.  As Chandler, Joey and Ross showed us, males tend to focus on facts.  It’s just one of the many differences in gender communication styles.

Understanding these differences will make communicating with the opposite gender a lot easier and more effective (and make you popular with the other gender.) 

Casey & Kate: Problem solving versus working through the problem

This is a picture of my son ,Casey, and the love of his life, Kate.  When Kate and I first met, she thanked me.  She appreciated the fact I taught Casey to listen to a woman rather than immediately trying to solve the woman’s problem.

This represents several differences between the genders we identify with.

Males are more autonomous.  Males tend to work problems out on their own.  They think it through and come up with a solution and they are done. Finished.

Females tend to think through their problems aloud.  They need to hear themselves describe the problem.  They are interested in other people’s feedback. Sometimes they have a solution in mind, but they need to vent.

So, if when a female decides to share a problem with a male, the male’s first instinct is to solve the problem.  When the male offers his solution to the problem, the female is baffled.  That’s not what she was asking for.  He hasn’t even heard her describe the entire problem.  Now she’s perturbed because the male wasn’t listening to her. And the male is confused because his solution would obviously solve the problem; end of discussion.

Now, when Kate vents, my son says the solution to her problem still jumps into his head.  But he identifies it as a communication noise, pushes it aside and turns his attention toward listening.  If it turns out Kate just needs to vent, then he’s done his job (and he is a hero).  If he thinks Kate seriously wants to hear his ideas, Casey says he’ll wait until she asks.  (BTW- You’re welcome, Kate!)

Okay, this video is a bit over the top, but it’s an example of what females want versus what males think the problem is.

Honey, what are you thinking about?

On the flip side of this, females will ask a male “What are you thinking?”  The answer they often get is “Nothing.”  As we learned from Rachel, Phoebe and Monica, females want details.  So, when they hear “Nothing” they feel as if males don’t want to share and there’s got to be a reason why you don’t want to share.

From the males prospective, they may seriously may have been thinking about nothing.  Or, at least what they consider nothing.  They may have been thinking about buying a new car, but they are more focused on the facts: gas mileage, horsepower, number of seats, etc.  There’s nothing really unusual about this so it’s “nothing.”

What the experts say…

Overall, researchers say females value communication, connection and building relationships.  Males value independence, power and status.  One set of skills or approaches to communication aren’t necessarily better than the other… just different.

Not all of these characteristics apply to all members of the gender.  They are just generalities.  In some cases, I may communicate in a more female fashion but in another situation I would use a more direct, male approach.

Males can learn from females how to better tune into what the other person is saying so you can get a better picture of what’s going on.  In essence, reading between the lines.

Females can learn from males to be more direct.  No explanation necessary.

Over the years, I’ve learned that when a male asks me a question I should probably answer differently than when a female asks me.  For example, if my brother asks me about my trip to see my son, he’s interested in if I had any car problems, how long it took me and how much time I got to spend with Casey.  If he wants to know something more, he’ll ask.

If my sister asks the same question I’m going to tell her about how I listened to Bruno Mars all the way to Portland, how delicious the waffles were at the Waffle Window, what Casey and I talked about on the drive to the park and do I still think Kate is awesome. (BTW- Kate is awesome.)

The Assignment

There’s a lot of research out there about differences in how the genders communicate.  Vanessa Van Edwards runs the Science of People research lab Portland, Oregon.  She’s been featured on CNN and Ted Talks.  She’s written for Forbes and Time magazines.

In this video she outlines some of the differences between male and female communication that applies to romantic, friend and job relationships.  Does what she have to say sound familiar?  (The video is just over 13 minutes, filled with some revealing scientific rationale to explain the differences in gender communication differences, and you need to watch it for the assignment!)

Below is a chart of the differences the experts identified between males and females. (Remember, these are generalities.  I don’t relate to all female qualities all the time.  My communication style incorporates several male characteristics.)



Seek out relationships with others
 Tend to seek standing & position
Relate to others as equals
 Relate to others as rivals
Prefer interdependency, collaboration, coordination and cooperation Tend toward independence and autonomy
Make decisions based on mutual agreement Choose or resolve by force, persuasion or majority rule
Desire closeness, togetherness and affinity Desires space
Care for the approval of peers Tend to seek the respect of peers
Express themselves more in public Express themselves more in private
More open to share problems Keep concerns to themselves
Tend to focus on details of emotions Tend to focus on the details of fact
Tend to ask for help, advice, directions Often will not ask for advice, help or directions
Offer sympathy, Display empathy Freely offer advice and analysis
Desire to understand problems Are problem solvers
Tend to take a more sober look at challenges Tend to look at challenges as a game unless life and death is at stake
Listen more Talk more
Make more eye contact Sees eye contact as a challenge to power

We’re going to explain ourselves to the opposite gender in our Blog#4:Gender

Type up a post that addresses the following:

  • Identify yourself by the gender you most closely associate.
  • Select a characteristic from your gender’s column and describe it to the opposite gender. Explain what’s good about it.  Then describe its limitations.
  • Then select a characteristic from the opposite gender’s column and share your perception or ask questions of the opposite gender.