Gender Differences and Listening to Women

In this week’s Success Newsletter, I would like to reveal some key gender differences and how they affect the way men listen & respond to women and what women actually want when they are sharing a problem with a man.

First a quick update:

“Celeb Rehab – Dr. Drew and real answers to addiction”
In two and a half years, five celebrities who have entered the TV show “Celeb Rehab with Dr. Drew” have died: Jeff Conaway, Mike Starr, Joey Kovar, and Rodney King, and Mindy McCready who  took her own life. Subsequently, there has been a strong outcry against the TV show Celeb Rehab and against Dr. Drew Pinsky. I have responded to reporter’s questions about the show Celeb Rehab, treatment for addiction and whether or not people in recovery suffering from addiction should be on a TV show exposing their lives and their treatment. I offer 7 factors working against a TV show such as Celeb Rehab. Read more here.

Now, let’s talk about some key gender differences and how they affect the way men listen & respond to women and what women actually want when they are sharing a problem with a man.

Before exploring the techniques to effective listening, I would like to outline some of the key differences between men and women.

While men and women are obviously different anatomically, their hormonal differences also influence their behaviors and attitudes, and they process information differently. Neuro-endocrinological evidence reveals that the high level of testosterone in males drives them toward dominance in society, while the female hormonal profile drives women to less dominant and more nurturing roles.

In her book, “Marketing to Women: How to Understand, Reach, and Increase Your Share of the World’s Largest Market Segment”, author, researcher and founder of The TrendSight Group,  Marti Barletta reveals that women’s responses are much more acute in four of our five senses and they can detect more subtle levels of input than men can. Women prefer sounds half as loud as men. Women are much more sensitive to odor and fragrance and can recognize their newborn child from smell alone. Women have greater sensitivity in taste and a greater ability in taste than men to experience the four key tastes: bitter, salty, sweet and sour. The most dramatic gender difference is found in the area of sensitivity to touch. In some tests, the most sensitive guy couldn’t feel skin contact as well as the least sensitive woman! (Also read my article “Why women crave romance”).

Based on various studies and research, here are some other differences summarized:

George Mason University Professor Robert Nadeau, author of “S/he Brain: Science, Sexual Politics, and the Feminist Movement”, says women have an enhanced awareness of “emotionally relevant details, visual cues, verbal nuances, and hidden meanings…” Women remember more details than men and are more sensitive to interpersonal details – tone of voice and facial expressions.

Male infants are more interested in objects than in people.

Female infants respond more readily to the human voice than do male infants.

Power & status versus collaboration & closeness
Studies reveal that girls are collaboration-oriented and generally use language to negotiate closeness and to establish intimacy as a basis of friendship;

Boys are competition-oriented and generally use language to negotiate their status in the group.

Accordingly, males use power to negotiate status while females use cooperation to establish rapport, and this is consistently played out in adulthood – at work, home and social settings.

Online communication – dominance versus supportiveness
Susan Herring, Professor of Information Science and Linguistics at Indiana University Bloomington, presented a paper “Gender Differences in Computer-Mediated Communication: Bringing Familiar Baggage to the New Frontier” and revealed that when communicating online, the differences between genders is clear:

The male style is characterized by adversiality – put-downs, strong, often contentious assertions, lengthy and/or frequent postings, self-promotion, and sarcasm”;

The female style is characterized by “supportiveness and attenuation” with expressions of appreciation, thanking, and community-building; as well as apologizing, expressing doubt, asking questions, and contributing ideas in the form of suggestions. ”

Men will more often use the expression “survival of the fittest” while women will more often use the expression “It takes a village”; again, a reference to power versus collaboration.

Stress and emotional responses in women
When experiencing pain and stress, the limbic region of the brain (emotion-based centers) are triggered more in women than in men and that therefore results in a more emotion-based response to facing pain and stress. When experiencing pain and stress, the cognitive regions or analytical centers of the brain are triggered in men more than in women resulting in tendencies to protect. Read my article “Men, women and stress”).

Men talk more than women
In most settings and with mixed-gender gatherings, men spend more time talking than do women.

Men with expertise will talk longer than the women with expertise.

Men initiate more interaction than do women.

When women ask a question, they are more likely than men to phrase their question in personal terms.

Men interrupt first
Men are more likely than women to interrupt someone who is talking.

Women are more likely than men to be interrupted.

Women are more likely to interrupt other women than they are to interrupt men

Women do not resist the interruption as much as men do

So what is the significance of these differences in relation to listening to a woman?

Basically, men will have a different approach to how they will listen to a woman and how they will tend to respond to her, while women will express themselves differently and will have different needs and expectations from the conversation than men will.

First it’s critical to note that hearing is registering that a sound has occurred, while listening is understanding and knowing how to interpret that sound.

It is true that ultimately we all want to be understood but women seek more; they seek support, empathy and compassion as well as understanding.

Accordingly, in a simple scenario where a woman is relating to a man (her partner) her problem or negative experience, the most likely and immediate response by the man will be: he will tend to cut short the conversation (possibly interrupt) as he tries to cut to the chase, will not be interested in the emotion expressed, will express anger if she has been hurt by someone else (protection), and above all, he will offer the immediate solution or answers to the problem.

In other words, he will look at the problem in simple logical terms with an emphasis on finding a solution and protecting the woman. If he recognizes or concludes that someone has hurt her, he will tend to want to punish the person who hurt her or wronged her. (Harvard psychologist Carol Gilligan believes that men tend to find the justice perspective more compelling and women tend to find the care perspective more compelling, and that is the reason that the man also wants to lash out at the person who has wronged or hurt her.)

What does the woman want?
The opposite.

She is not looking for loads of advice, a solution, immediate protection or punishment against the wrongdoer (unless she specifically asks for any one of those things.) Instead, what she is actually looking for is someone who will: give her undivided attention and listen to her entire conversation (without interrupting or judging her); someone who will accept her and understand her perspective; someone who will offer her empathy and compassion; someone who will support her by validating her feelings and emotions.

In next week’s Success Newsletter, I will offer strategies for effective listening.

You can post your comment on this newsletter below.

If this newsletter was forwarded to you and would like to receive all of my newsletters please enter your email address on the home page.

I wish you the best and remind you “Believe in yourself -You deserve the best!”

Patrick Wanis Ph.D.
Celebrity Life Coach, Human Behavior & Relationship Expert & SRTT Therapist

Facebook Comments



4 replies
  1. Avatar
    Jennifer Rodriguez says:

    Wow!! Sometimes the differences between men and women are like night and day, the moon and the sun, the East and the West. Really amazing that the two sexes can co-exist sometimes!

Comments are closed.