7 June 2012

Listening – between genders

Are you a good listener? How do you know? Is it because you can repeat verbatim what someone is saying?

Listening requires an understanding that not every speaker is needs the same thing.  Good listening takes skill and frankly, most people are not great listeners. How often, for example, have you been formulating a response while you were listening – chomping at the bit to get your two cents in as soon as there was a pause in communication?

This is not uncommon – I used to be a terrible listener. One of the benefits of Toastmasters is that we not only learn how to be competent communicators, we also learn how to listen well. It takes training to become a good listener. When you listen well, you pay attention to what the person is saying. You figure out whether they are just sounding off or if they require a response from you. You remain attentive and make eye contact. You pause at the end of the dialogue to see if they need to add more. You wait for an indication as to whether they need anything from you. The art of listening is not to be taken lightly – great leaders are great listeners.

What about listening across the gender divide. Many of us have gotten into trouble by responding inappropriately to the other sex. Women and men often have challenges when it comes to communication. I often say that women speak to men as if they are speaking to other women. Men speak to women as if they are speaking to another man. They have not quite learned how to speak to one another or how to respond appropriately to the other sex.  They have not learned the art of cross-gender listening which is a specialized kind of listening.

Women tend to use communication to build rapport and social connections. When they communicate, they are more likely looking for empathy from the listener. Men on the other hand are looking for solutions. Imagine that a woman is telling a man about a problem – all she wants is an ear – but a man will look for a solution – he will actually have one ready for her when she takes her first breath. In all likelihood she was just sharing feelings and seeking empathy and understanding. It would likely have been appropriate to say nothing but lend an attentive ear. When she hears the solution she may get offended because she will resent your desire to fix the problem. That is not the way that women do things.

Men like to solve their own problems, sizing things up and thinking instead of talking it out. Women feel left out of things when this happens even though the truth is – men are not thinking about anything but the problem at hand. Men have a tendency to not want to share their feelings or talk things out and when that happens – women may get offended because you’re not treating us like we treat one another.

Gender differences are varied and there are usually enough stereotypes around to say that enough men and women display these traits – so what is the solution – learn to be a good listener and check in if you’re not certain. Over time people get to know one another well enough to know what will work. Become a good listener and your life will be less stressful.