“You Just Don’t Understand” – how men and women don’t communicate
I don’t know about you, but I sometimes expect my husband to read my mind.
Like the time we had booked in a dog called Roger*. We are a dogsitting host for Barking Mad. It’s fabulous – we love dogs yet we don’t want to commit to the time and expense of owning a dog. Plus it’s a sneaky way of getting my kids more active at the weekends (shhhh don’t tell them that).
Normally on a Friday, I’m at home all day. It’s my blog-writing accounts-checking marketing-planning house-sorting CEO day. I rarely work with clients or run workshops on a Friday. On this particular Friday, unusually I’m not at home because I’m booked to attend an all day workshop. It’s on the family calendar. I’d mentioned it at the weekend.
Monday morning I remind my husband “You remember I’m out all day Friday?” My husband does the food shopping and cooking (usually on a Friday afternoon) so he needs to know I’ll be home late. Normally on a Friday, he teaches one class and he’s home for the rest of the day.
Monday afternoon I get a call from Barking Mad. “Are you able to dog sit for Roger over the weekend? Arrive around 10am Friday, go home 10am Monday.”
I check with my husband first: “What do you think? Is it ok for us to have Roger again at the weekend? Drop-off 10am Friday, pickup Monday morning?” “Oh yes, great. We can take him to High Elms on Sunday”.
Perfect. Roger is booked in to arrive 10am on Friday.
Roger is a popular dog with our family. He is a rescue dog – mostly labrador with a bit of staffy. Loves his cuddles. Suffers from anxiety issues and doesn’t like being left on his own for more than an hour or so.
Wednesday evening, we settle down to watch Masterchef Australia over a glass of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. I say to my husband “Do you remember my friend Karen from Harrow? She’s going to be at the workshop with me on Friday. I haven’t seen her in ages.”
Thursday night, just as we’re going to bed “So excited, Roger’s back tomorrow. By the way, what time do you need to leave for your class in the morning?”
Husband: “It starts at 10 so I need to leave by 9.30am.”
Me, a bit confused: “So have you arranged to start a bit later, then?”
Husband: “No, why?”
Me: “Well what about Roger? If you’re not going to be here at 10 …. “
Husband: “Where are you then?”
Me: “Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten that I’m bleep bleep bleep out all day at that bleep bleep bleep workshop? But I checked with you on Monday about being here. Surely you remembered when I mentioned I’m seeing Karen last night. I can’t just cancel – you just don’t understand.” I was seething. Absolutely furious. Spitting nails. He couldn’t exactly cancel his class and it was too late to rearrange Roger’s visit. But I’d told him. I had.
And yes I had. But I hadn’t been specific in what I wanted.
You just don’t understand
Even though I have learned through my studies and research, that men and women tend to communicate differently, I still expected my husband to read my mind.
Women expect men to know what we want; men expect women to tell them what we want. This difference in styles is almost guaranteed to lead to communication conflict! Have you ever heard yourself saying “You just don’t understand“.
I had told my husband that I was out all day Friday. I had checked with him whether it is OK for Roger to arrive at 10am on Friday. My mistake was that I expected him to make the connection: “Sherry’s not here. I need to be here at 10am for Roger”.
What I could have said instead: “What do you think? We’ve been asked to dogsit Roger again at the weekend? Drop-off 10am Friday, pickup Monday morning. Remember I am out on Friday so you will need to be here at 10am to let him in. Is that ok?”
If you want to improve your communication and avoid those ‘misunderstandings’, you’ll love this book You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation.
I first came across the author, Deborah Tannen, when I was working in a law firm and wanted to be a better leader. She is a professor of linguistics and her book explores the gender differences in communication style.
My main learning point from the book (though clearly I don’t always put it into practice): if you want a man to do something, you have to tell him what you want him to do. A sideways request does not work. Another example:
“It’s recycling day tomorrow” to you or me, might imply “and therefore I want you to take the recycling boxes out”.
However a man hears “It’s recycling day tomorrow”. (He might think “Yes, so it is”). If you want your partner (and I’m assuming you have a male partner, here) to take out the recycling boxes, you will get less frustrated when you are more direct e.g.
“Can you take the recycling boxes out before you leave in the morning.”
Do you see the difference? So often the mums that I talk to who are going back to work after a career break or want to change career direction, feel overwhelmed because they don’t see how they are going to fit it all in. Yet often your husband or partner will do more or do things differently …. if only you ask. It’s not being bossy; it’s being confident and direct. Try it and see.
What about you?
What about you? Do you sometimes expect a man to read your mind? I’d love to hear your stories of how you’ve expected a man to read your mind. Just wondering, how can you apply this to the way you communicate at work? How you express your expectations? Your skills? Or your ambitions?
And by the way, I cancelled my networking meeting. Through gritted teeth but I couldn’t leave Roger out in the cold.
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(*name changed to protect the innocent)