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Home » Behavior, Communication, Featured, Headline, Relationships

How Men and Women Communicate and Some Reasons Why it is so Different

Submitted by on March 6, 2013 – 4:25 pmNo Comment

men and women commimages

Author: Michele Keighley

Men and women are different in many ways—this is undeniable. But to ensure that those differences don’t become stumbling blocks, it’s important to understand how and why we are different.

It Starts with the Brain

The human brain is a vast and complicated mystery that is only beginning to be explored by neuroscientists and behavioural specialists. Studies that look at how men’s brains and women’s brains function show that we do indeed have differences.

One study showed that men and women think with different parts of their brain: Men’s thinking is relegated to grey matter and women’s thinking is centred in white matter. [i]

Grey matter houses the brain’s information processing centres, while white matter is the network that connects those centres. The study concluded that this could explain why men generally excel at tasks that require hard facts and set equations and women excel at connecting and integrating information.

Other studies have shown that men have larger brains than women, but that men tend to utilize only half their brains at any given time.

When a man is completing a task, his brain is only firing in the part of the brain where the skills for the job reside. Alternately, women’s brains have a larger Corpus Callosum. This is the connecting point for the left and right sides of the brain. When a woman performs a task, both sides of her brain are involved, explaining how women can attach emotional observations and see connections so clearly.

While brain studies have different purposes, most of them state that these sex-based differences do not reflect on intelligence or mental capacity. Rather, they conclude that humans essentially all have the same hardware, but use that hardware differently. [ii]

The same conclusion can be drawn for differences in male and female communication: Yes, there are differences, but that doesn’t mean one or the other is better.

How Men and Women Communicate

Best-selling author and communication scholar Deborah Tannen popularised the term “genderlect” when she used it to describe the two sex-based communication styles [iii]

She emphasized that gender communication should be treated like cross-cultural communication and therefore not as inferior or superior, but different. She went on to describe the broad, generalised differences discussed here. Remember, though, sex is male and female, but gender—femininity and masculinity—is a continuum.


Men and women use communication differently. Women use communication as a way to build rapport, while men use it as a way to report information, grab attention, and show power. This means that when women form and interpret messages, they are doing so through a lens of supportiveness. Men are more likely to do the same thing through a lens of dominance. This is especially so in the case of interrupting:

Women interrupt to show support, to indicate what Tannen calls a “co-operative overlap.” Men view interrupting as a play for power.

Women also use questions to build understanding, to reassure the person they are talking with, and to strengthen bonds. Women want to include others and be part of a community; this is how the use of “tag statements” is explained. When stating an opinion or giving an order, women will often tag their sentence with, “Would you mind…” or, “I’m not sure if we’ve done this before, but…” or, “Don’t you think?”

These short statements are meant to placate, include, even comfort. But to men, these are like qualifiers that make the woman using them seem unsure or uncertain. Men avoid questions because it implies weakness or exposes ignorance (consider how this relates to the please-stop-and-ask-for-direction cliché).


Where women use specific, personal language, men use linear, abstract language. Where women tell people how they feel, men tell people what they know. Women are expressive and adept at imbedding details that are meant to include the other person in the experience. Men tend to be much more direct with their language and move sequentially through points and stories. Linear speech is less intimate and ensures the conversational goal is one of exchanging information

Men and women also converse about different topics. Women have conversations about people, events, their families, and friendships, usually telling stories about others while downplaying their own roles. Men, according to Tannen, are the heroes of their own stories. They tend to tell more jokes and use humour as a way to negotiate status. Men prefer talking about things and processes.

There is a stereotype that women talk more than men. This is accurate in terms of same-sex conversations (men talking to men, women talking to women). But studies show that in mixed-sex conversations, men talk for twice as much time as women.

Interestingly, women who talked for more than one-third of the time in those conversations were regarded as talking too much.

As the brain studies implied, women have a tendency toward holistic or big-picture communication. Their thought process works like a web: everything is interconnected and cause-and-effect relationships can be quite complicated. At work, this can take the form of placing as much (or sometimes more) importance on fellow employees as work-related tasks because a woman sees how relationships impact the bottom line [iv]

Men are more focused on specifics in projects; they are concerned with how things are interconnected only as that interconnectedness relates to the project, task, or final goal.


Women are active and expressive listeners. They nod and make eye contact and almost always say things like, “I’m with you,” “Yeah, right,” “or even, “I hear you.” These words of agreement are not necessarily agreements with the topic or even the person speaking, but rather acknowledgments that reaffirm the relationship. Men are quiet listeners.

When a woman is listening to a man, he may interpret her acknowledgments as total agreement. When a man is listening to a woman and does not make those acknowledgments, she interprets that as disinterest or that he is ignoring her.

One of the biggest difference in gender listening is this: Men listen to solve problems and women listen to gain understanding of the speaker.

[i] “Men and Women Really Do Think Differently” by Bjorn Carey

[ii] Gender Matters: Challenges of Cross-Gender Communication in the Workplace” by Kathleen Brady –

[iii] Deborah Tannen, (1991) You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation. London, England, Ballantine Books

[iv]Mars, Venus and Gray: Gender Communication. Dr Kamarul Zaman Ahmad

Article Source:

About the Author

Michele Keighley is a Director and Senior Trainer with Trischel – Innovative Communication Training Company. – She is an award winning trainer, published author amd profession speaker.

As a Female SNCO in the military she has a real interest in the way that men and women communicate and speaks from experience when she says we can get it so wrong and is one of the founders of the GenderGurus

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