Over the weekend I journeyed to visit my adult son for the day. Although we extensively use technology to connect, I hadn’t been in his presence for several weeks and it was my turn to travel towards him. I would have been fully satisfied with my visit lingering over lunch enjoying a lengthy conversation exploring his thoughts and feelings regarding various subjects pertaining to his life and sharing some of my own.
That’s how most women are wired to communicate according to the research of Deborah Tannen. Her study of children communicating revealed that even young girls prefer sitting facing each other discussing a problem or feelings of one of them, whereas boys sit parallel to each other sharing an activity which creates brief topical conversation.
For males, conversation is the way you negotiate your status in the group and keep people from pushing you around; you use talk to preserve your independence. Females, on the other hand, use conversation to negotiate closeness and intimacy; talk is the essence of intimacy, so being best friends means sitting and talking. For boys, activities, doing things together, are central. Just sitting and talking is not an essential part of friendship. They’re friends with the boys they do things with. ~ Deborah Tannen, You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation
The motives of communication between males and females are different as well. Tannen discovered that males reluctantly share personal issues because it could damage their status and desire for independence. Female counterparts presume that hesitance to share is withholding emotional intimacy form them. Since they create connection with others through discussing problems, they often attempt to lead the way with males by sharing their own issues. When a female communicates with a male in this manner she is often disappointed when he attempts to jump to problem solving, since he can’t imagine sharing a problem unless he needs a quick fix in order to regain control. In that sense, the communication motives are at odds with each other, and create much misunderstanding and lack of connection.
Knowing this difference in communication preferences, I had the cribbage board stuffed in my purse. As a little girl I remember many weekend afternoons spent alongside a cribbage board learning, competing, laughing, and listening to my Dad. My son recently told me that he and his friends had been playing cribbage. So I resurrected my board, tried to remember how to play, and hoped this tool would work it’s magic again! I wasn’t disappointed. The game created enough activity, competition, and laughter to satisfy my son, and paved the way for a meaningful conversation concerning his work and life, which fulfilled my desire for connection. It was a win-win for us!
So, if you want to connect with a significant male in your life, be willing to engage in an activity that they might enjoy. Allow the conversation to be the backdrop to the activity. Likewise, if you desire closeness with a significant female in your life, be willing to share some of your internal thoughts and feelings and listen to hers as well, without assuming she is asking for a solution. By being willing to give each other the gift of meaningful communication as they would receive it, you will capture the connection you both desire.