The Friday Jerusalem Post carries a Q & A-style advice column entitled “Psychologically Speaking” by a clinical psychologist named Dr. Batya L. Ludman. I rarely make it all the way through the paper from week to week, and rarely make it to Dr. Batya’s column.
However, the February 13 edition had a Dr. Batya column that caught my attention. I seemed to remember a popular book called Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus by one John Gray, which examined the differences between male and female behavior and thought, as well as a much better-written volume called You Just Don’t Understand by Deborah Tannen, a linguistic look at men’s and women’s communication styles. Dr. Batya’s column was much shorter than either of those two books, so out of curiosity I thought I’d give it a read.
A woman had written to complain that her husband sits around and doesn’t lift a finger to help her with the household chores. According to the woman, the man complains that she is a nag.
For the most part, I thought Dr. Batya’s advice was eerily sound. She writes that men and women think and communicate differently, and these differences must be recognized and understood in order for spouses to communicate effectively. She acknowledged that the woman probably loves her husband, and doesn’t want to “complain, nag or even kill him,” but suggested some of the ways in which the woman could understand her husband better and hence communicate her needs more efficiently.
Dr. Batya’s suggestions to the woman included talking to her husband at a time when he is not focused on other things, and being specific about her needs and expectations.
The reason I said “for the most part” in the above paragraph is that Dr. Batya’s advice should not be limited to women’s communication with men. Here are some ways women can apply Dr. Batya’s advice to individuals other than their spouses:
Be very specific. …[S]ay what you mean and mean what you say. …The fewer words the better. Be very concrete and clear in terms of the behavior you are requesting or the tasks you need help with. If you simply ask for more help but are vague, it won’t happen. Spell it out.
This is also good advice for anyone trying to get a small child to clean her room. If I tell 3-year-old Banana to pick up the playroom, she’ll stand in the playroom and look around her, at a total loss for where to begin. Five-year-old Peach will as often as not choose to play with the toys where they are rather than put them away. The only thing missing from this very sage piece of advice is the admonishment to use small words, or include crisp, illustrative gestures if addressing a pet.
Keep it simple and be clear. Women tend to give lengthy explanations and then become offended when men aren’t interested or don’t listen.
I do this all the time with my kids, giving longer, more detailed instructions or reasons for things. They just can’t process all that stuff and get lost in the extraneous information. Even if they try to look interested, I can see in their eyes that they’re really just waiting for me to finish my monologue so they can change the subject or get down from the table.
Women multitask and men don’t. While it may be painful for you that he can focus on only one thing at a time, you’ll lose him if you give him more than one task to do. When he finishes one job, he will then be ready to go on to another. …He may finish his job and never think to ask you what else needs to be done.
Truer words were never spoke. When supervising chores with my kids, it is very important to keep the task simple and clear, and follow up with each child to see that the task was completed before assigning another one, or I end up with a dozen tasks half-done around the house.
Accept that he may not feel the same way or even feel anything when you are feeling upset over an issue. He may not even know how he is feeling, certainly can’t describe it and may not have a clue how you feel.
I think as women we are often taught to hide or mislabel our feelings, especially anger. I once heard a female physician say that being an adult means one should outgrow anger. This absurd attitude highlights how important it is to find ways to express emotions clearly, but non-threateningly. Adults, especially women, are still entitled to feel their emotions, but should have more verbal (and less physical) ways of communicating their feelings to others, both adults and children. The only creature I’ve ever met who understood my feelings without having to be told was my late, dearly beloved Irish setter.
So ladies, there you have it. Communication 101 for dealing with men, children, and the less sensitive species of pet.