Long before relationship counselor John Gray wrote the bestseller “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus,” it was widely accepted—after centuries of hard-won experience—that when it comes to verbal communication, men and women might as well be members of two different species. Simply speaking the same language is often not enough to guarantee genuine understanding. That’s because there are real differences in the way women and men think—and in how we transmit our thoughts to each other.
Women who complain that their men “just don’t seem to care” about what they have to say are missing this vital point: Speaking so that a man can (and will) listen is an art form, an exercise in subtlety and strategy. And the payoff is well worth the effort. But be aware that becoming a “man whisperer” is not about changing his behavior; it is the craft of understanding and mastering yourself. You have the power to grab and keep his attention when you talk. Here’s how:
1. Less is More. Studies have shown that most women talk three times as much as men. This gender difference is evidence of the cognitive differences we mentioned: Women think—and process feelings—out loud while men usually don’t. Much of the conversation about better communication is aimed at getting men to open up and speak more freely—a worthy goal. But a man whisperer knows this is a two-way street. She tries to meet her man halfway, with fewer words than she is naturally inclined to use.
2. Content is Key. Here is an unavoidable truth: Some topics of discussion are not going to enthrall the average man no matter what you say or do. For instance, he probably couldn’t care less about the color scheme of bridesmaid dresses at your college roommate’s upcoming wedding. Why ask him to pretend? In such cases, whether he listens well or not has nothing to do with his feelings for you. It is wise to recognize when you should let him off the hook.
3. Timing is Everything. When there is something you need to discuss, be careful to choose the right moment. He will be less attentive when he’s had an especially stressful day at work, or if you wait until midnight to begin, or just before kickoff of the big game. This doesn’t mean you must walk on eggshells. Sensitivity to his needs as well as your own is just good strategy. Being mindful of your timing is an inexpensive way to increase your chances of holding his interest when it matters most.
4. Give and Take. Don’t forget that talking to your man is not a monologue. He’ll be more interested in what you have to say if he feels the reciprocal is true as well. Ask him what he thinks about what you’ve said; let him know his opinions are valuable to you; inquire about his day with genuine interest; voice your respect and approval of his achievements. In others words, practice the wisdom of giving him the attentiveness you hope for in return.
5. Punctuate with Body Language. There is a lot more to “talking” than stringing words together. Researchers have estimated that between 80 and 90 percent of human communication is nonverbal. In any conversation, we reveal more through body language—tone of voice, eye contact, posture, placement of our hands and feet—than we ever do with words. Give your communication a boost by taking conscious control of these amazing tools. For instance, periodically laying your hand on his forearm and keeping eye contact while you speak will make your man feel cared for and valued—and capture his interest. With this skill you’ll go from competing for his attention to commanding it.
Good communication is challenging, but far from impossible.