Family and Consumer Sciences
Gender Issues: Communication Differences in Interpersonal Relationships
Cynthia Burggraf Torppa, Ph.D., Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Morrow County, Heart of Ohio EERA, Ohio State University Extension, The Ohio State University
lot of media attention has been devoted to the idea that women and men communicate very differently—in fact, it is sometimes stated that women and men communicate so differently from one another that they must come from different planets! Although at times differences in women’s and men’s communication styles seem to be constant and overwhelming, they are really quite minor. For example, ...view middle of the document...
Women more frequently emphasize the similarities between themselves and others, and try to make decisions that make everyone
happy. In contrast, it is more typical for men to expect relationships to be based on independence and competition. Men more frequently emphasize the differences between themselves and others, and often make decisions based on their personal needs or desires. How are these differences seen in marriage? In the ways women and men communicate! Women tend to be the relationship specialists and men tend to be task specialists. Women are typically the experts in “rapport talk” which refers to the types of communication that build, maintain, and strengthen relationships. Rapport talk reflects skills of talking, nurturing, emotional expression, empathy, and support. Men are typically the experts in task accomplishment and addressing questions about facts. They are experts in “report talk,” which refers to the types of communication that analyzes issues and solves problems. Report talk reflects skills of being competitive, lacking sentimentality, analyzing, and focusing aggressively on task accomplishment. These differences can create specific, and commonly experienced, misunderstandings. Here are three examples: He: I’m really tired. I have so much work to do—I don’t know how I’m going to get it done! She: Me, too. There just aren’t enough hours in the day! He: There you go again! You never think my contributions to this marriage are good enough! In this conversation, she is trying to communicate something like “We’re partners and share similar experiences.” Her intended “between the lines” message is: “I
Copyright © 2010, The Ohio State University
Gender Issues: Communication Differences in Interpersonal Relationships—page 2
understand what you’re going through; you’re not alone.” The “between the lines” message he hears emphasizes competition for status: “What are you complaining about? You aren’t any better than I am!” or “Your contributions to our marriage aren’t any more significant than mine!” She: I’m really tired. I have so much work to do—I don’t know how I’m going to get it done! He: Why don’t you take a day off and rest, if you’re so tired? She: (sarcastically) Thanks a lot! You think my contribution to this household is so trivial that I can do nothing and the difference won’t even be noticed? Here, he is trying to communicate something like “Oh, you need advice and analysis? I’ll focus on the details and facts, and offer a solution.” His intended “between the lines” message is: “I will help you solve your problem because I think I know something that might help.” The “between the lines” message she hears him saying: “I don’t want to understand your feelings; I’m different from you and I know what you should do.” The problems here result from some subtle differences in the ways that women and men approach problems. Women sometimes deal with problems (especially emotional concerns) by...