Experts tell us that a chief reason friendships run into trouble is because boys talk to girls differently than girls talk to boys. And their communication styles are based on very different expectations. Learning how others communicate and adjusting your expectations to the differences in styles can help.
The following tips come from psychologists, guidance counselors, and specialists in how people think, feel–and talk.
We’re all individuals, with our own communication style and our own unique way of expressing ourselves. Yet within the genders are some common points.
* My Turn! Boys expect girls to listen to them, while fewer girls expect boys to do the listening. Because of these expectations, boys generally do more of the talking in boy-girl conversations.
* Yeah, But… Boys interrupt girls more often than girls interrupt boys–or each other.
* How Come? Who Says? Boys ask questions because they want information–and also because they want to let people know they’re in charge.
* Well… Boys are less comfortable than girls in talking about their feelings.
* I Won! Boys especially like to talk about the competitive parts of their life. The excitement of trying and winning is important to boys, and they like to talk about it–who they’re up against, what their chances are, what they have to do to get better.
* Yea, Team! Many boys like to talk about team events–their school, their favorite sports team, professional or amateur. High-tech and sports equipment, cars, and bikes all are very important to many boys.
* Now, What About You? Girls tend to take turns talking. With women and other girls, many girls observe the unstated but understood rules of sharing: If you listen to me and let me know you’re interested in what I’m saying, I’ll do the same for you.
* Tell Me More. Girls ask questions to display interest in the other person. It’s a way many girls deepen a friendship.
* At Least, I Think So. When they’re stating opinions, girls tend to hedge their statements and make disclaimers. “It seems to me…” “Don’t you think so?” While girls may use this as a way to draw others into the discussion, boys may see it as a sign of uncertainty or insecurity.
What We Have in Common
Girls and boys both want to feel safe in their friendships. That means we want to feel understood for who we are, not for who the other person wants us to be. We need to trust the other person to be there for us–to listen, to respond, and to act on our behalf.
We also want to feel interesting and valued for who we are as human beings, not just for what we look like or seem like but for who we really are. That includes those character traits that nobody else has in quite the same interesting–or even irritating–ways.
If you find yourself stumbling again and again over the same roadblock in talking to your friends, the following guidelines may help:
* Clarify Questions: If you don’t understand or don’t agree with what your friend says, try for more information or for another level of meaning. “I’m not sure I understand. Can you explain?” is one way to get at what the other person really means. Paraphrasing is another tactic: “If I understand you, you’re saying that….” Restating and rewording the other person’s comments can overcome misunderstandings and keep a relationship on a firm footing.
* How to Handle Interruptions: If the other person habitually interrupts, it may help to keep talking in spite of the intrusion. If this doesn’t work, increase the volume as you continue to speak. If you’re forced to break off your comments, don’t acknowledge the interruption. At the first break in the flow, continue where you left off. If the other person ignores this tactic, level with him or her. Describe how it feels to be interrupted continually. Ask the other person to let you finish.
* Take the “I” Approach: If your feelings have been hurt by your friend’s actions or words, say so. But confine yourself to how you feel about what happened. Stay away from accusations about what the other person did or speculation about what he or she intended. Don’t use phrases such as “You did” or “You said.” Try instead: “My feelings were hurt.” “I felt like you didn’t care.” “I felt ignored.”
* When in Doubt, Don’t: If you suspect that something you’re about to say could hurt the other person’s feelings, don’t say it. Bite your tongue, sleep on it, write it down, talk it over with others before you say it directly. Taking back your words is generally a lot more difficult than not saying them in the first place.
* Apologize Fast: If you think you’ve unintentionally hurt a friend with your words, apologize as soon as possible. Don’t let the hurt fester in the other person’s mind. “I’m really sorry; I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings. Please forgive me. I hope we can still be friends.”
* Pace the Friendship: Let the friendship progress at a pace that’s comfortable for both of you. If he’s not willing to talk about his feelings, don’t push him into it. He may simply prefer to wait until he knows you better before he trusts you with information that’s important to him. Ease off if you feel him pull back. While you may not understand his reasons, you should respect his desire for privacy.
* Empathize: If you can’t talk clearly and comfortably with a close friend, ask yourself what it must be like for the other person. Trying to understand his or her point of view might help get you both back on track.
Boys and girls may have different expectations from conversation. But understanding these differences can help smooth the disagreements and pave the road to a lasting friendship.