Let’s talk a little about your conversations with the women in your life. These could be daughters, daughters-in-law, mother, aunts, female colleagues – generally any women you come into contact with during your day.
Do some of these women regularly claim that you’re “not listening” or that you’re repeatedly “interrupting” them?
As a widower, you and your late wife may have developed a “shorthand” way to deal with conversations to keep this from happening. And now you’re confused to find communication problems showing up with the women in your life.
As a coach, it’s not unusual for me to hear from male clients about issues like this. And it’s surprising how often the frustration comes down to the different ways men and women view communication.
Over time, my clients and I have found an image they can use to bring about positive changes. The metaphor involves (believe it or not!) a glass of water.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. First a little background on what is often behind the men/women communication problem.
TALKING FROM THE WOMAN’S POINT OF VIEW
She wants the man to listen to what she’s saying until she’s done talking and then if she wants to hear his opinion she’ll ask. Here’s what is considered typical for women:
- A woman talks to another person to feel connected to them.
- A woman feels cared about when she knows someone is listening.
- She knows someone is listening when they don’t interrupt and when they validate that she knows what she’s talking about.
Women may already know how to do this with other women, because it’s what the other woman wants, too.
TALKING FROM THE MAN’S POINT OF VIEW
When men talk it’s usually to do one of the following:
- Share information – the news, accomplishments, scores, etc.
- They have a problem they’ve tried to solve on their own and now they need a solution. When they ask someone for a solution they expect an answer right away.
Other men may automatically know how to do this because it’s what they want as well.
A FEW THOUGHTS FOR THE MAN IN A CONVERSATION WITH A WOMAN
It’s frustrating when a woman tells you “you’re not listening” when you’ve just offered a suggestion or solution for her problem. You may have listened to her until you heard the problem she was having, and maybe your solution really is the perfect one to solve it. You gave it to her because you care about making her feel better. And you’re confused when she gets mad.
So let’s symbolize a woman’s stressful feelings as a full glass of water. The woman’s glass is filled to the brim with her feelings, lots of pressure. There’s no room for even an eyedropper more of liquid (definitely no room for advice).
The way many women release their stress is to talk about their feelings.
At this point, I tell a male client, her “glass” is completely full and there’s no room for his solution. And because I know his intention is to do something to help her feel better, I explain that “just listening” is like “dipping a large spoon into the glass” and taking out water. It begins to take the pressure of the stress away, and this helps her feel better. Just making sounds like, “Hmmmm” or “Oh my” or “Oh yeah” as she talks will let her know you care about how she’s feeling.
The process of repeating her words back helps even more. For example:
She says, “My boss is a jerk.” Instead of saying, “You should just quit”, try saying, “I agree your boss is a jerk.”
She says, “I had to stay home all day with the kids and I’m feeling overwhelmed.” Instead of saying, “Just get a babysitter,” say, “I see how overwhelmed you’re feeling because you stayed home all day with the kids.”
This reassures her that you’re listening to what she’s saying and you understand how she’s feeling.
The ultimate goal is for the woman to empty her emotional glass. When the man listens and empathizes with her feelings, she’ll start to feel better.
Typically, when a woman has emptied her stress-filled glass she will either say, “Thanks, I feel better” and she’ll be ready to move on to other topics.
Or she’ll say, “Thanks I feel better and what do you think I should do about my horrible boss?” Then, you get to give your great advice and the woman is ready and willing to hear it.
And there’s an additional benefit of listening. Along with relieving her pressure and helping her feel better, you don’t have to keep thinking about a solution to her problem as she’s talking. You can relax and just listen (I know, I know – easier said than done). Treat this like any muscle. The more you use it the stronger it gets and the better you get at it.
I’d definitely like to hear what happens when you use this technique.