Why do men and women sometimes find it so difficult to communicate? Do they communicate differently, or is that just a stereotype?
Research has shown that males and females are very likely to communicate with same-sex peers. Same-sex playmate preferences have even been observed in preschool children (Maccoby, 1990).
A study by Maccoby & Jacklin (1987) found that preschool children spent almost 3 times as much time with same-sex play partners relative to children of the other gender. By the age of 6 ½, children spent 11 times as much time with same-sex peers.
So females have more experience communicating with females, and males have more experience communicating with males. The ways men and women communicate are different: Males and females have different cultural rules for friendly conversation (Maltz & Borker, 1983). On this basis, we have reason to expect that male-female miscommunication may occur.
Maltz & Borker (1983) summarize a body of research on how men and women communicate. Their review supports the stereotype that, within all-male groups, males are more likely to interrupt one another, command, use threats, show authority, refuse to comply, interrupt, tell jokes, trump other people’s stories. Moreover, males respond to other people’s problems by giving advice, by acting as problem-solvers or experts.
In contrast, within all-female groups, females are more likely to share experiences and offer reassurances. They are also more likely to express agreement with others, pause to give others a chance to speak, and acknowledge other people’s points.
So differences do exist? Well, the above-mentioned gender differences were observed within all-males groups and within all-females groups. This suggests that males and females communicate in different ways when they speak to people of the same gender.
The differences, however, may not be as profound, or even exist, when males communicate with females and vice versa. All people adapt their ways of communicating to different contexts:
“… People do perform gender differently in different contexts, and do sometimes behave in ways we would normally associate with the “other” gender.” (Jones, 2006, p. 153).
Indeed, Reeder (2005) challenges the idea that men and women differ in the ways they communicate. According to this paper, gender accounts for only 1% of the variation in peoples’ communication.
That being said, gender differences do exist within other fields of human behaviour (for a review, see Eagly & Wood, 2013), but they are really not as great as the media portrays them to be.