Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Male Call

The following article was published in the military mini-newspaper, the Stars and Stripes: Mideast Edition. It made me laugh, so I thought I'd share it.

Male Call: Guys don't usually call a buddy just to chat

Q: MY QUESTION is this: What is the difference between men and women and how they communicate? Either with each other or just in general.
— Gabrielle

A: We'd love to hear the details of the situation that prompted you to ask this question, Gabby. Did you have a frustrating encounter with a male loved one recently, perhaps? Maybe one too many monosyllabic responses to your heartfelt "penny for your thoughts" attempts at meaningful dialogue?

Or maybe your question is strictly academic, in which case that's sort of too bad, because we usually are better with anecdotal answers, rather than, you know, science-y ones. But! As it happens, there is some research that addresses this very question.

Before we try to remember what it was, however, here is our standard caveat when discussing the differences between men and women: Obviously, not all women act in a particular way, and not all men act in a particular way. There are always exceptions.

So if we say guys like beer and the NFL, we don't mean all guys, everywhere. In some countries, they don't even have the NFL. So let's all try not to be so literal, OK?

The standard theory about differences in communication styles between the sexes goes something like this: Women talk to analyze and empathize about problems; men talk to impart information. That's why guys rarely call someone "just to chat." (Also, we don't say "chat.") When we call someone, it's usually to get or give some specific information:

Guy 1: "Hello?"
Guy 2: "What's up?"
Guy 1: "Nothing."
Guy 2: "You watching the game later?"
Guy 1: "Yeah, come on over."
Guy 2: "'K. Oh, wait, I wanted to tell you about this situation that came up at work, that really left me feeling odd. There's this new department head who everyone seems to like, but he totally has not given me the time of day. Like just today "..."
Guy 1: Click.

Ha! See what we did there? Guy 2's last response was more typical of something a woman might say in that situation. We did it for the contrast, which is pretty striking, no? The idea is that men (generally) communicate on a need-to-know basis. Women communicate to bond.

At least that is one of the theories espoused by Deborah Tannen, who wrote "You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation."

And we have no reason to doubt her, even though we're not quite sure why it took a whole book to convey information that could have been summed up on a cocktail napkin. Oh wait, it's because of her gender! Anyway, the thing to remember, Gabby, is that neither way is all right or all wrong. Just because a guy doesn't talk about his feelings much doesn't mean he doesn't know how to communicate. It just means he doesn't know how to communicate like women do.

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