Investing in Being Human - Dr. Colin Archer
Males and Females in Un-communication
By Dr. Colin Archer
Nov 2, 2013 - 12:15:39 PM

You’ve probably heard it many times. "He never seems to listen to me. She’s always changing the subject. Why does he always turn away when I’m speaking to him? Why does she repeat the same thing over and over again, nagging - I’m not deaf, I am listening! He’s always interrupting me, asking for simple instructions. It doesn’t mean that because we don’t go into every single detail of a conversation that I don’t care, I am interested…How many times have I told you that?" 

These are classic examples of males and females, men and women in non-communication; in what I prefer to call, un-communication.

It’s a truism; for the most part, men and women talk straight pass one another, with much noise but little effective communication/common-union whatsoever. Maybe we ought to resort to the adage which runs: To say more, talk less. That’s literally, what one man did, following the collision in 1972 of two oil tankers under the Golden Gate Bridge, spilling 840,000 gallons of crude oil into the bay, with disastrous results to the natural environment, fish and wildlife.

As his way of protest, of speaking and communicating productively and call focused attention to the importance of maintaining a pristine environment, the man decided to stop talking. He held his voice and maintained silence for 13 years. Lo and behold, it worked! The press and the public took notice, heard what the man was really saying and everyone begun to respond in effective ways to prevent future spills.

Knowing when and when not to, how and how not to speak - even how to speak even when one is, in fact, silent - is mentioned throughout Holy Scripture, notably in the book of Proverbs 17:28.  But even when men and women do all these talk/listen things scrupulously and diligently, they still regularly fail at getting the effective communication-thing right. Statistics bear this out. Sixty-five percent of people who divorce and remarry, end once again in divorce. Most marriages fail because the partners involved blame the other person for a communication breakdown.
As a psychotheologian and now a non-practicing couples and family therapist, I’ve read and studied dozens of theories on inter-human and male-female communication techniques.  The best advice I’ve found is in books written by Deborah Tannen, You Just Don’t Understand: Men and Women in Conversation, and John Gray, Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, both published in the early 90s.

Essentially, Tannen and Gray are saying the same insightful things about male-female communication and the kind of relationships which follow therefrom. Men and women have a cross-cultural problem that can’t be solved by pointing fingers; a miscommunication that should be addressed cross-sexually. It’s as if, says Gray, men are from one planet, Mars, and women are from another, Venus, and they must learn afresh the language of the opposite planet, the mysterious, yet liberating ways, of the opposite sex. For example, when husbands stare into space as their wives talk to them, it’s not because the man doesn’t care or he’s not actually listening as the woman often deduces. Rather, advises Tannen, it is because at an early age boys and girls learn to communicate differently.

Bonds between little girls are developed by getting physically close to share secret, intimate conversations. This technique they take into adulthood, and now expect their best new male friends to duplicate and participate in. Little boys, on the other hand, learned, for the most part to communicate by doing, not saying things. Boys build things, fight wars, create adventures and, generally, resist any hint of subordination. Boys build alliances. Girls build friendships. As boys mature into men, so the theory goes, they unconsciously continue this struggle to resist the surrender mentality; and this is why for many men, listening up-close-and-personal is regarded as a form of dependency, even defeat. In other words, for men, that kind of communication is self-defeating and non-growth producing. Tannen says that to women, men may appear to be staring off into space and not listening, when, in fact, they are hearing and listening – and here’s the surprise - very intently. 

Other studies show that girls tend to talk about one subject (they talk-it-to-death, a boy might say); whereas boys tend to skip around in a jumbled sort of fashion, from one subject to another. Men prefer to debate and resolve an issue; women strive to be empathized with and understood.

One lesson, I believe, to be learned from all the varied, often complex and sometimes uncertain theories on male/female attempts at authentic communication, is that men should exercise the more feminine aspects of their personality when talking and listening to women; conversely, women should exercise the more masculine aspects of their personality when talking and listening to men. But who knows, maybe even this won’t work in the complex, ever-changing matrix of male-female relationships.

About the author:  Dr Colin Archer is an ordained Christian Minister and Psycho-theologian, who at an early age he realized a keen sensitivity for the poor, homeless and dispossessed in relation to church and society. He served as Psychotherapist at a psychiatric hospital in Nassau, Bahamas for many years. He is the founding president of The Bahamas Council on Alcoholism, later establishing a half-way house for recovering victims of alcohol abuse and a home for battered women through Methodist Community & Church Ministries. He is currently the Author of five (5) books, due to launch his sixth book, Foundation 7 Formation, due to be released in Spring of 2013.

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