Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Gender and communication
by Donnell King

There is a biological basis for differences in communication patterns in men and women.

For instance, the corpus colossum, the bundle of nerves that connects the two hemispheres of the brain, is generally about 30 percent larger in women than in men. That doesn't mean either gender is smarter; it means that women are better able to multitask, switching back and forth between the detail-oriented thinking and the holistic, pattern-oriented thinking that the two sides generally control. (Yes, this is an oversimplication, but it accounts for at least some of the differences, though not all.)

Testosterone has been shown to affect attention. It's not that men don't pay attention; rather, they focus on one item at a time, like search light, whereas women tend toward a less-focused, more encompassing attention oyono melatonin tabletten, like a light bulb that lights a whole room. Whether this is driven by biology or socialization is an open question. It is true, however, that the traditional roles reinforce and/or are driven by these differences. The challenge of managing a house and several kids at once requires more comprehensive attention; the challenge of killing something and bringing it home to eat requires the more focused attention and the ability to block out distractions. You'll see your housecat do the same thing when it's stalking something. Predators focus.

Though not politically correct, and certainly subject to conscious management (they are, after all, tendencies rather than requirements), these differences come into practical play in our everyday conversations.

Deborah Tannen how found several significant differences between the way women communicate and the way men communicate (as far as I know, she hasn't tried to determine if it's biologically or sociologically based--just noted the differences). For instance, women are better at accurately determining someone's emotional state based on nonverbal communication, a skill that demands integration, pattern-recognition, and multitasking read it. Men are better at problem-solving, a skill that demands focus, blocking out of extraneous information, and following distinct steps.

Bottom line: he's not preferring the football game to her. But if he's watching the football game while she's trying to talk to him, he will literally not hear what she's saying. By the same token, if she manages to get his attention he will hear what she is saying, but he will have no clue what happened on the TV while he was talking to her.

Such linear communication also doesn't lend itself to frequent interruptions. In other words, interruptions can drastically affect men without bothering holistically focused women as much. Men are often criticized for having one-track minds. They can, in fact, switch tracks, but it takes the kind of effort it takes to have a train switch tracks. Constant interruptions can have the effect and frustration on men of constant derailment. This, in itself, is probably very frustrating to women who don't need a track and can zoom all over the landscape at will.

It is quite possible to recognize these differences, and compensate for them. For instance, women tend to communicate primarily to share feelings and understandings, whereas men communicate primarily to solve problems. If I'm talking to another man about a problem at work, he will just assume I'm seeking help solving the problem, and he will likely be right--otherwise, I wouldn't have said anything. If I try to solve my female colleague's problem in the same way, though, I may be told that I'm not "listening," because I'm trying to solve the problem rather than simply "hear" her.

I have been learning (and it is a learning that will go on for a lifetime; we can compensate for biology, but we can't change it) to ask my wife when she wants me to help her solve a problem, and when she wants me to just listen. And I have also been learning to let her know what I'm seeking as well, since we've both been learning that it can be useful to communicate in the other mode than what our biology might predispose us to. But it takes conscious effort. We have also been learning that violating the expectation that our respective gender lead us to regarding communication does NOT mean that the other person is inattentive, uncaring, or "not listening"--which is the most common complaint both men and women have about each other.

Again, these are tendencies, not necessities. Assuming that "all" men or "all" women communicate in a certain way would be going too far. Ignoring the tendencies would go too far in the other direction, however.

Now, go out and commit an act of communication!

Editor update

We're having some problems with our other blogs that could show up on this one. The software has a bug that the techies are trying to track down that can sometimes (not always--which makes it harder to track down) send out to the email list the most current post AND the next-to-most current post. If we find this happening with Squiggles, we will disconnect the email list from the blog. Subscribers will still get the most current post in email, but I'll have to send it by hand, which may mean it appears on the blog site up to 24 hours before you get it in email. We'll get this fixed soon, or I'll switch to a different software package.

You may see a site redesign soon as well.

For those following Hannah's progress, she is gaining weight now! She has adapted to her gastric feeding tube (put in place because she wasn't protecting her airway and was aspirating her food), and we are starting to get a handle on how all this affects our daily schedule). She still has physical challenges (at nearly 11 months, for instance, she still has trouble holding her head up and still can't sit up on her own), but she is making progress, and now weighs 15 pounds, 5 ounces.