Posted at 2:00 PM Feb 23, 2010By Andrea Grimes
A couple days ago on the mag's site, Some Lady who is a trainer, consultant and "keynote speaker" (that's a full-time job?) turned her chair around and got real about how ladies are really good listeners, because ladies are really good listeners. Writes Audrey Nelson:
Listening is a part of the female job description and the key component in facilitating interpersonal relationships. The famous horse behavioral expert Monty Roberts' has made observations of an alpha mare meting out discipline to a herd of wild mustangs. He noticed that the mare, when confronting a renegade and abusive young stallion colt, held one ear forward and one back, as if she'd divided her attention. The ear facing backward was aimed at the rest of the herd and especially at a young foal this colt had just kicked. The forward ear was trained on the "bad boy" colt. I believe this is analogous to the split or double ear we observe among women.That's right: because female horses do a thing, female humans do a thing! God, I love science.
A woman hears the verbal message just as a man would, but she is also reading between the lines to intercept feelings. That's her socio-emotional ear. She evaluates facial expressions, voice, gestures, and posture-the whole repertoire of nonverbal behavior-and draws conclusions from these, as well as from the other person's words. Women's ability to manage the flow interaction, to really listen and hear what people say, and to gather information from others in a non-threatening way is a strength and a part of the social maintenance women perform on a daily basis.Men, who don't have feelings or care about interaction, are not social like ladies, who are social and who maintain socialness. Kittens!
Certainly in the work world, most consider the participation of subordinates as essential to the effective influencing of staff. But we also observe this skill every night at the dinner table, where a woman attempts to regulate the flow of conversation to include her most reticent child and restrain her most precociously verbal child from dominating the conversation!Every night, women make dinner. They also care for children. They are also in charge of keeping the kids in line, because men can't do that, I guess because they don't have emotions or care about social situations.
Why do women listen differently? Part of the answer may be tied to brain structure. For women, emotional responses reside in both hemispheres of the brain, which are connected with the corpus callosum, a thick bundle of nerve fibers-thicker in women than in men. These fibers facilitate the exchange of information between the two halves of the brain. According to genetics expert and television producer Anne Moir, "this means that more information is being exchanged between the left and right sides of the female brain" than the male brain. The more connections one has, the more fluent one is in understanding emotions."I get all my brain and genetics news from television producers, myself, because neurology and genetics are pretty cut-and-dry, and we obviously have that shit totally figured out and have no more questions about how the brain works and are totally sure where everything in the brain is located.
(For the record, nobody really does evolutionary anthropology any more because it's mainly racist and used to romanticize and/or oppress "primitive" peoples and, well, women, by essentializing gender roles.)
Predictably, anthropologist Helen Fisher takes a more anthropological outlook of female listening superiority. From her point of view, millions of years ago on the grasslands of Africa, women stayed around the hearth when men left for months at a time to hunt. A woman's acute sensitivity to listening probably developed because of her babies-she had to listen for their cries while defending against predators.
(Gloria Steinem is awesome. She is not, however, especially academically qualified to be an authority on whether women actually, empirically, have better-developed listening skills.)
I would argue that since much of female survival and sex role prescription has depended on the ability to encode and decode accurately others' nonverbal cues, women have had to develop their listening skills more effectively. In fact, Gloria Steinem has suggested that women's so-called "intuition" (or "mind-reading," as one of my male survey participants put it) is not some extraordinary ability but really a by-product of their better-developed listening skills.
Many men feel threatened by a woman's ability to glean more from the communication than they do. They don't like it. They'll accuse the woman of reading too much into their verbal statements. "Well that's not how I feel!" they will protest. But women are paying attention to the nonverbals that qualify the verbal. "You said you don't like the furniture I picked out," a woman may say, "but here's what I really think is going on with you."Men and women are enemies, mainly because women talk too much and get all pissy about shit. Fact.
Moreover, men don't want to listen to all the detail that women feel compelled to share, especially in business situations. "What's the bottom line?" "Get to the point!" were born out of male culture in response to women going on and on. Men complain to me, "Women over-communicate." "They have to talk about everything and they have to beat the topic to death." A male manager told me that his female colleague gave him some excellent insights about their respective boss. "However," he said, "It was way more than I needed or wanted to hear!" Indeed, since women are process (and not goal) oriented, men believe they are too easily distracted. This adds to the credibility gap between the genders.Men hate it when women talk. They just can't help it. It's like nails on a chalkboard to their man-ears.
The solution? Women can strive keep their communications short and to the point. It's wise to cut back on excessive verbiage. This is truly a case of less is more; the men in their lives may listen better with less! Learning to be more precise in speaking is equivalent to learning to be a good editor of one's own writing. The only context in which a woman should use excessive wording is when she is talking to women's groups or out to lunch with her gal pals.Women, it is therefore your responsibility to talk less, again, because it makes men feel bad and confused and angry. (They might actually have to hit you to get you to shut up, which is your fault.) You are the ones who need to change, not men, who just want you to shut up and go talk about shoes with your ladyfriends if you absolutely have to, you dumb, shallow bitches.
If a woman has been accused of going on too long or if she's been told to "Just get to the bottom line," she should learn to use a pyramid answer style: First reply with only a one-word or one-sentence answer. To the question, "Is the report going to ready on time?" the proper answer is, "No it isn't." She can then build with details in two to four more sentences, using a bullet-point style and short, succinct sentences. "The computers were down. We couldn't get them up for three days. . ." and so on rather than giving a long-winded history of the project's failures and successes before coming to the point.Here is a step-by-step guide on how to shut the fuck up. Memorize this.