You Just Don’t Understand

Date: November 14, 2014

Speaker: Dr. Harold J. Sala | Series: Guidelines For Living | But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.  Matthew 5:37, KJV

“You just don’t understand!” says Deborah Tannen of men and women in conversation, in a book by the same title.  Dr. Tannen is a linguistics professor, and the book is an outgrowth of trying to help men and women understand each other.  She is convinced that men and women really don’t understand each other, and furthermore, they don’t understand why.  The reason behind this, believes Dr. Tannen, is that men and women grow up in different cultures–as much as growing up in two different worlds–and though we as men and women speak the same language, our understanding of what the other gender says is often much different.  Both men and women attempt to interpret the other in terms of their own gender, and the result is confusion and misunderstanding.

Effective communication, she believes, has to be cross-cultural, cutting across the barriers of misunderstanding as we use the same words but mean entirely different things.

“Boys and girls,” says this often quoted linguist, “grow up in what are essentially different cultures, so talk between women and men is cross-cultural communication.”  She continues, saying, “A cross-cultural approach to gender differences in conversational style differs from the work on gender and languages which claims that conversations between men and women break down because men seek to dominate women.”

In our generation, the attempt to produce equality among sexes only further obliterates the fundamental differences between men and women.  Much of our inability to understand each other stems from our failure to accept the fact that God made men and women different emotionally, physically, and even spiritually.  Our failure to communicate effectively is only compounded by our ignorance of our emotional make-ups–which Dr. Tannen describes as cross-cultural.

Males, by virtue of their nature, pursue independence, and dominance is all part of that status quest.  Women, on the other hand, want intimacy and connection, and this is fundamental to understanding each other.  Little boys play games which produce winners and “elaborate systems of rules that are frequently the subject of arguments.  Little girls, on the other hand, tend to play in pairs.  Best friends are important to girls; winning, to boys.

While both boys and girls tend to want their way, they go about it differently.  The end result is that they say the same things but mean entirely different things.  Men are problem solvers; women want affirmation.  When a woman asks, “What do you think about something?”  she’s asking for an opinion–a starting place for negotiation.  But men offer a definite solution–an attempt to fix something.  His answer isn’t negotiable.  But when a woman asks a question, it doesn’t necessarily mean that she wants an answer.

Does all of this mean that men and women are hopelessly handicapped when it comes to communication?  No!  But an understanding of each other’s natures is a big step to effective communication.  The husband who said he could read his wife like a book only shows how ignorant he really is.  Women are more complex, far more sensitive to issues than men; and men, on the other hand, are born with that desire to protect, yes, even to dominate.  It’s all part of our nature.  Learning to love each other and meet each other’s needs demands an understanding of each other’s nature.  It is one of the great keys to happiness, one that is well worth taking time to discover.

Effective communication consists of having things heard and understood–not simply saying them–and until we learn to hear what each other is saying, we will never, ever have things heard.  Do you understand? I hope so!

Resource reading: 1 Corinthians 1:26-30.