My granddaughter is twelve years old, and is going to an all-girl’s school next term. I asked her if she was looking forward to it. “Oh, yes” she sighed “Boys just never listen!”

Welcome to the real world honey; and as any woman will tell you, neither do men!

We’ve all heard that men are from Mars and women are from Venus – which is in itself a glaring example of stereo typing. It presumes that all men are martial and all women are emotional; an attitude which hopeful men adopt to explain why they simply cannot understand women. But the idea that men never listen does have some justification in experience – mine!

I claim to be an expert in existing alongside a group of individuals that never listened to me. I worked alongside men, not in a support role, but in competition. I argued with them, yelled at them, tried to understand them and cried when I couldn’t. A female soldier in a platoon of men has a hard lot to bear!!

Consequently when I say that there are only two things that I found really different about the way men and women communicated – I do so from extensive experience.

The first thing that I discovered was that men are born problem solvers. Every thing couched in terms of a problem needs an instant solution. This caused me great frustration, because while men will jump straight in with their solution women have a very different way to deal with the communication of problems and solutions.

You see a woman will want to set the scene; we want to describe the situation so that you get the picture. Men will hear the situation and immediately start to solve the problem. This is not necessary – mostly we have solved the problem ourselves and are telling you our solution – but – we want you to understand what the problem was all about first before we move onto our solution. Men just want to solve the perceived problem

I found this infuriating at first – when I was holding planning meetings I wanted to outline the situation so that everyone understood what was at stake. My male soldiers took that as in invitation to suggest solutions without waiting to see if I had any first.

My approach of course, infuriated them – “If you knew what we had to do to solve it, why not just say so!” was one incensed corporal’s response to my carefully outlined scenario.

The base problem is the fact that very often men do not listen – listen all the way through that is. They get impatient and want you to cut to the chase, so to speak. The careful explanation of what caused the problem is not necessary for them to solve it. And so I asked myself “Is it absolutely necessary for me to paint the picture?” Often the answer was “No” and so I didn’t.

But in other cases it was, and then I had to set the ground rules by telling them that I am going to outline the situation first, and then we can discuss solutions; so if you have any suggestions jot them down until I have finished.

Let me say it again, men may hear us but they rarely listen. They seem hard wired to interruptions; when a group of men get together over a beer in the mess, then it’s bedlam sometimes. They talk over each other, they interrupt and if they disagree with what’s being said they can increase the volume until they are the last man standing – and have therefore won the argument.

Of course men know the rules of this particular play ground, but when I first got to pick up my bat and ball and start to play the game, I did so with very different rules. And so I failed spectacularly. I didn’t want to shout them down, I wanted them to understand my reasoning, but if you don’t listen to me you cannot understand where I am coming from.

I had two choices, I could learn to play by their rules, or I could change the rules. I chose the difficult option of trying to change the rules. And in twenty years I made a very small dent in them!!

But I did find that if I had something of importance to say, I could say it personally to one or two. Individually men do listen. When we had discussed it and understood where each was coming from, there was no gender bias – until the group dynamics started again.

Men in groups behave as instinctively as women do of course; but eventually, after a frustrating day of trying to convince a particular colleague that my idea on a hot topic had merit I was encouraged when, during a heated male debate on the subject, the colleague looked across at me and we exchanged a conspiratorial grin. He had listened, and opted out of the male bonding ritual.

And as he was the one person who could authorise the implementation of my solution, all the bluster and rhetoric of the mess was just hot air. It was an important lesson to learn.

Men can listen, but not in groups.

Personally, I have found a simple request to listen to me works with the husband. When he gets into the “Leave it to me, I’ll solve it” routine I just ask him to listen to my solution, because I am not asking him to help only sharing with him my options.

But in return, I also listen to him when he is trying to articulate emotions and feelings, because men find difficulty in putting into language feelings that hurt and depress them. Often I want to jump in and tell him how he is feeling as women understand the language of emotion and use it easily. But if we dislike men’s instant solutions, they dislike being told how they feel; we need to practice what we preach.

So both sides of the gender debate can help to close the communication gap with the simple grace of listening – giving attention to the other; respecting their opinions and understanding their point of view. We do not need to agree with them to listen. And having listened we should be in a better position to communicate clearly.

Michele @ Trischel

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