Of the many changes which have taken place in American society since World War II, one of the greatest has been in the roles of men and women. Members of both genders have lived multiple roles in the past, but these were generally established ones, such as men being the wage earners and women the caregivers.
Communication followed largely defined cultural and societal norms. Usually, nuances in speech and in body language could readily be interpreted. As Archie Bunker nostalgically sang in television’s "All in the Family," "... and you knew who you were then; girls were girls and men were men."
Many of the roles have remained the same, but now they frequently are carried out by members of either gender. Women have careers in engineering or sports; a growing number of men have full-time care of home, children, and the disabled. Both men and women have a variety of jobs in the workplace and positions in the hierarchy of management.
Communication between the genders has become more prevalent and pervasive in society, as norms have changed. When one adds the mobility of the American population and the differences among the cultures they represent, both the importance and difficulty of effective communication increases. Now medical and sociological researchers are offering aid, even across cultural lines, in gender communication.
Few Americans communicate with as many different types of individuals of both genders as U.S. Army chaplains and chaplain assistants as they interact with each other, and provide religious support to soldiers, family members, and other civilians — worldwide. Their roles and orientation to people often give them special insights in communication. The following observations, however, may also be helpful to both men and women.
Men are widely observed to come quickly to the point they wish to make, while women tend to use more detail in leading up to the point. In communicating with women, men may become impatient as they search for the point, or lose interest. If they interrupt, women can be frustrated or offended.
In talking with men, therefore, women can use two techniques to communicate more effectively. First, begin with the point, or "bottom line," if possible. Second, omit unnecessary detail.
On the other hand, men can refrai...
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...relate nonsense words, men used only the left sides of their brains; but after the majority of women processed the information on the left sides of their brains. They used the right side to relate additional examples. Might this difference have any bearing on the fact that women as a group usually include more detail in their speech?
Knowledge may continue to expand; many enigmas of speech and behavior may be solved. But good communication between individuals can continue to be based on the precept underlying all the examples described above.
This precept, shared by the great religions of the world, is kindness: caring for each other.
Glass, Lillian, "How to Communicate Better with the Opposite Sex," Bottom Line/Personal, August 15, 1996.
_____, "Perspectives on Literacy, Gender, and Change," British Journal of Sociology of Education, Vol. 16, Issue 4, December 1995.
Richardson, Susan, "S/HE Brains," Discover Magazine, June 1995.
Margaret Robertson served as a program analyst in the Directorate of Combat Developments at the Chaplain School until her retirement in March 1997.
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