Albert Mehrabian was a psychology professor in the 1970s who famously suggested that only 7% of our communication uses words. This number has been challenged at great length over the years. However, it does point to an important truth. The truth that there is a whole range of ways we communicate beyond the words we speak.
There are important signs and messages in what and how we communicate. If we are to enjoy successful relationships we need to learn what these are. A good example of this is in relationships between men and women. Many of the problems and misunderstandings that exist between them are due to the different ways they communicate.
Men have learnt to communicate in a specific way. They take things more literally than women because they communicate more from their heads, using thought and logic. Women can communicate this way also, but they’ve developed other communication styles. Styles that use emotions and feelings to express their experience.
In order to communicate most effectively, it’s important to develop beyond our natural communication preference. For men, that involves listening beyond the words. Men need to connect to their partner’s emotions and needs to understand what they are really communicating. This can be difficult because many men were taught to withdraw from emotions. Therefore recognising emotions in others can be difficult for them.
There is a whole subtext beneath what women say. Once we learn the true meaning behind what’s being communicated we can start to have more meaningful conversations. If we don’t learn how to do this it will lead to misunderstanding and frustration.
As with any topic that discusses men and women, these are broad generic brushes I’m making. The truth for each individual will lie between the strokes, so the distinction between men and women is not one to be taken literally.
That said, here are three examples of things women say that men don’t understand:
#1. “She’s always complaining”
Man: “Why is she always giving me a hard time? She’s always looking for my faults and loves pointing them out to me.”
Woman: “I want to test his resiliency and integrity. I want to see how he’ll react when I challenge him. This way I’ll know if I can respect and trust him.”
When we were cavemen and women, there was an unconscious game that took place where we checked each other out for suitability. The men were looking for women who could carry and nurture children. Whereas the women were looking for strong, virile men who could procreate and protect them.
Our needs have evolved since the caves but the testing has not. Sometimes women complain because they’ve had a crap day. Sometimes, however, they complain because they’re testing their men to see if they respect and trust them to meet their needs.
When you see their complaints as a way of testing you and calling out the bigger, more trusting man, then they begin to look different. Women want to respect you for your direction in life, how you provide, your integrity and your drive to succeed. The frustration they show is at you not meeting your potential.
A lot of what women communicate in relationships is how their man makes them feel. Their venting provides a powerful mirror with which you can ask what is she seeing and feeling in me that I can learn from?
Instead of getting angry at her complaining, ask yourself:
- What’s the positive intention behind her complaint?
- What does she want from me that she isn’t getting?
- Which of her needs am I not meeting?
In short – Women love testing men to see how they will react and to see if they’re trustable.
#2. “It’s like she’s talking a different language to me sometimes”
Men: “We’re talking about two completely different things. I think we’re talking about the kids, only we’re not….apparently”
Women: “He doesn’t understand me and can only communicate what he’s thinking. I want to communicate more deeply than that.”
In most relationships, we speak two languages. One is very literal, logical and predominantly used by men. It’s the language of the workplace, of action, and it comes from the head. The other is empathic, intuitive and predominantly used by women. It’s the language of feelings, of emotions and we feel it in the body.
Men communicate for information so they can achieve the goal they’ve set and move on to the next thing. Women communicate for connection so they can feel and relate to the person more deeply. They want to experience an exchange of energy between each other. As a result, they’re less interested in the information and more in the feeling.
When a woman feels listened to, it’s because someone has heard beyond the words she speaks. When men don’t understand this they turn to fixing the perceived problems, which is their zone of genius. Women don’t see it as a problem that needs fixing but as an opportunity to connect. Men then receive feedback indicating they’re way off the mark, when they think they have a solution to the problem. Hence the impasse many experience.
The problems men hear women speak are not the problem. The problem is the story and meaning they give to their problems. Real learning is in how you can feel and listen behind the words. There is a whole new language there and until men learn it there will always be an impasse.
Instead of getting frustrated get curious about her and ask yourself:
- What is the story behind the story she is sharing?
- What feelings do you notice her expressing? Reflect them back to her.
- What feelings are you present to in your body? Share these with her.
In short – Women communicate what they feel, not just what they think.
#3. “She takes control of situations that I’m dealing with”
Men: “I’ve told her I’m dealing with the situation, and then she just takes over”
Women: “If I don’t trust him and his leadership I get frustrated and would rather do it myself”
Women are more powerful and successful than ever before and this is going to increase over time. Men are feeling under pressure from women who are able to lead just as well, if not better than they are.
In my relationship, my partner is a successful woman who manages a large team of people. At work she is a leader and is excellent at being decisive, giving direction and helping to support her team. If she is going to trust me to lead her I need to offer her something she can’t provide herself.
A useful analogy is to compare relationships to a dance. In a dance, there is typically a leader and a follower. The leader sets the tempo, style, direction and the follower follows. It doesn’t always work like this though. Applying this to our relationships there are typically three scenarios:
- Two Followers – In many relationships there are two followers as both are passive and looking to the other to take the lead. I call this relationship “The Wet Lettuces“.
- Two Leaders – Some relationships have two leaders. They fight over making decisions because neither trusts the other, both thinking their way is best. I call this relationship “The Fighters“
- One Leader and One Follower – The best relationships are those where there is an equal give and take between each one leading and following. This is fluid, with a constant ebb and flow. The follower each time relenting to the more dominant lead (and that can be a man or a woman). I call this relationship “The Dancers“.
When women take control of situations it’s because they don’t feel strong leadership from their man. They believe they can do a better job but often fail to communicate this to him in a way that is meaningful. Taking control of a situation is a sign that they don’t trust him because they sense a lack of decisiveness, direction and integrity.
Men often respond to this from an egoic place. They place blame on their partner and introduce a hierarchy of superiority, with themselves placed solely at the top. The alternative is to take this as great feedback for how they’re showing up so they can lead better next time.
Instead of getting frustrated at her taking over, ask yourself:
- Where am I not being decisive?
- How can I act with more integrity?
- Is her leadership stronger than mine? If yes then how can you follow her instead of fight her?
In short – Women trust decisive, loving and congruent men to lead them. If they don’t feel this they will resist his leadership and take action themselves.
I hope this post was helpful. What’s your experience of this? Let me know in the comments and please share this post with a friend if you enjoyed it. For regular content like this just fill in the box below.
To your success