Overcoming the Great Divide

Conquering the Hurdles in Gender Communication Kira Laws

Communication has always been a place of indifference and fluctuating misunderstanding. For some, it may feel like crossing turbulent waters attempting to get to a place of peace. The desire to be heard by some and understood by others has inadvertently created strain on relationships, especially between males and females. It is indeed a travesty that what we feel and what we hear are usually not communicated clearly, especially in matters of the heart. What prevents us from being totally transparent and vulnerable? What glass prisons have entrenched us from sharing our true thoughts and feelings? Why are we so fearful of allowing our thoughts or feelings to be heard, shared, and ultimately understood? Why do these hurdles exist? And more importantly, how can we cross over them successfully to reach effective dialogue? Hence, overcoming this muddled communication is The Great Divide.

The great divide is the missed opportunity for successful communication. It is the implicit space between where what is being said and what is heard is lost and never received. Communication is the measure by which so many have created a barometer of safety. It is used to quantify and evaluate how far or how deep we are willing to go or give ourselves in a relationship. Truthfully, the barometer needs to be recalibrated. The meter stick is broken. Many of us rehearse poor methods of learned communication, unwittingly to bend or change because that’s all we know. Albeit, there’s nothing wrong with picking up the teachings and experiences that make you the awesome person you are today, but at some point the misapplied guidance needs to be retooled to fit your life, your audience, and your environment.

The inability of males and females to communicate effectively has not only created, but continues to contribute to this great divide. Many studies have found that on average, women speak about 20,000 words per day and men may only speak roughly 7,000 words per day. This means women speak 3x as much as men. It can be argued that these statistics draw a stark parallel to how we hear and thus, how we communicate. For example: Women often times want the details of every story, while most men just want the facts…or urge people to get to the point. Time being the most valuable commodity in the world, many men do not see the value of details because the details may not lead to a quantifiable determination of whether there is something that requires an immediate fix. On the other hand, many women find value in the jewels (details) that may have been overlooked believing that there may be future necessity in the information.

Communication 101: What shapes communication styles?

Whether the same sex or different, communication styles are shaped by our experiences, environment, education, and etymology. Depending on what your life experience has taught you, how and where you were reared, places you have travelled, or things you have been exposed to e.g. formal or informal education, these things affect how we communicate. Rules in your upbringing may have created parameters or barriers to how you speak to someone, perceive interpretations or translate what is being communicated to you. These findings beg the question, what really is communication?

Ideally, communication is an exchange of information that can run the gambit of thoughts, opinions, or facts. Furthermore, effective communication is a purposeful activity when information is heard for intent and responded to with the original intent in mind. If communication is healthy, it helps to solidify the “commune” in our connection between people to get to an objective. However, many times in relationships, people put their own interpretations, feelings, emotions, etc., into what they believe is being said. And at other times, instead of speaking a word at all, they let their body language do all the talking for them.

Are words really necessary?

Well, theoretically no…but ideally yes! Words plus actions could clarify communication if its intent is what is actually being communicated verbally and nonverbally. Hence the old adage “actions speak louder than words.” This cliché, I’m sure predates me in my young years, however it is a recognized fact that not only what people say is important, but what they do. Nevertheless, many times people have a battle with believing the words that are spoken, despite the actions that are displayed…what a conundrum? Think about it. There are thousands of scenarios where we can call into question the relevance of verbal communication when nonverbal communication fails to support the “words.”

For all the nonverbal communication that is present, we cannot forget that body language communicates just as well and is always at hand in every dialogue whether overtly or covertly. If I was a betting person, I would venture to say that body language trumps words at all times. For this reason, people are specially trained in the art of reading body language. But if only the common person could use these techniques to decode communication between the sexes…however, this is rarely the case.
Body language speaks when words are absent…and unfortunately we have a responsibility to pay attention not only to what people say but what people do. As mature individuals, we have to be responsible and accountable with our communication. We have to evaluate if what we are saying and what we are doing complement one another and are telling the same story.

Now some may say that this should be a given and everyone should feel comfortable saying what they feel or as the expression goes, “say what you mean and mean what you say.” But as we know, this is rare and being forthcoming or too direct can present obstacles in relationships, some that may risk your sanctity or put in jeopardy the safety of a relationship.

Images Courtesy of Kira Laws

Communication Challenges

As mentioned, your exposure (experience, environment, and education) can add to timidity in communication, especially between the sexes. Let’s be honest, speaking candidly about what you feel and your opinion many times is a huge challenge. Saying how you actually feel or not getting offended when truth is spoken has widened the gap of the great divide. Indeed, not only has it widened the gap, but it can make a simple response in a discussion feel like a long walk or an unnecessary journey. Other challenges that fall into this category are: not listening, or listening to respond and not listening to understand, not wanting to hear the truth, not wanting to hear the other person, diluting the truth, and/or not being forth coming.

Honestly, some of the aforementioned obstacles are triggered by stereotypes and biases that we have collected through the years. Some of the stereotypes that affect communication between the sexes have to do with gender. Then there are others that helps facilitate the widening of the communication gap that point to social and economic status (where people live, where people are from, and where people work). All of these stereotypes, whether combined or looked at individually can become burdensome in relationships.

Stereotypes are not only limited to what your experiences have shown you, but what your own family, education and environment has passed on to you. Things that we learn in the home have huge impacts on how we look at life or people we have encountered. Even how you view popular culture and social media create the stereotypes which shape our communication styles. Stereotypes, whether good, bad, or indifferent shape our preferences and biases.
Unfortunately, it is almost unavoidable and inevitable that our biases will eventually speak for us. Of course, it is not intentional; many times we don’t realize we are operating within the stereotypes that allow these biases to have a home. When these things are present, we have to be sure that in our communications or lack thereof that we do not allow our biases to have a voice, but instead develop a strategy to cross the great divide.

Crossing the Great Divide: Preservation of Healthy Communication

There will always be a battle of the sexes, misunderstandings and differences that we are trying to overcome. But undoubtedly, conquering the great divide of communication IS possible. The key to everything will always be to establish healthy communication and then preserve it. It can be as simple as making the first steps to cross over the bridge of muddled communication to journey to a place of uninhibited listening and responding. Remember, communication is an exchange of information that helps to solidify the “commune” in our connection between people to get to an objective. For it to be effective, the purpose must be met: information is shared and responded to taking into account the original intent.

Keeping this in mind, there is nothing harder than trying to speak to your significant other or loved one about something big or small and not feel like it is being received. So ultimately, to have and preserve healthy communication there should be a meaningful exchange that addresses all parties concerns as practical, yet never moving away from the original purpose of the communication…Are you listening? Take the cotton out of your ear; take your headphones out, turn down the noise…and by any means necessary, remove yourself from your perspective and get out of your feelings. Along with time, healthy communication is a valuable commodity so slow down, listen, and handle with care.

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