Lori Duff and I have enjoyed a little back-and-forth this week concerning the communication challenges facing men and women. She started things off with her handy holiday guide to help men, and I followed with a handy holiday guide to help women. Then, yesterday, Lori posted about why women won't tell the men in their lives what they really want for Christmas.
Several local men reportedly received concussions from beating their heads against their desks after reading that last one, though not because of the writing. It would seem that sheer frustration from the female understanding of communication drove them to utter hopelessness. I mean, let's face it: if women think that subtle hints and non-verbal cues constitute clear and honest communication, then men are pretty much hosed. Not because we don't know how to read non-verbal cues, but because we don't know how a woman intends for them to be interpreted.
Seriously, if you think about it, most men excel at non-verbal cues, if only for the fact that most men prefer not to use words. Ever.
Want some proof? What do men do when they see one another in public? It's one of three things--a wave, the dude nod, or a quick, "Hey - s'up?" Men rarely stop in the middle of the auto parts store parking lot and catch up on the last few weeks events. Men won't park the buggy in the middle of the aisle in Walmart to discuss the latest community news (also known as gossip). For the most part, men live as if we are all Special Forces operatives: we're quiet, focused, and perpetually moving towards the next mission.
Still not convinced? Take a second to consider the games that consume so much of the American male's time: baseball and football. Granted, football has the audible, but when someone has truly mastered the game, like a Peyton Manning, how does he communicate with his linemen and skill players on offense? Hand signals. How does the back up quarterback call in a play? Hand signals.
For Pete's sake--baseball is a sport built entirely around non-verbal cues! From catcher to pitcher; from pitcher to catcher; from coach to fielder; from coach to batter; from fielder to fielder; from batter to runner; from runner to batter; from coach to catcher; and so on. And to top it all off, you're considered a genius if you can figure out what the other team's non-verbal cues mean.
Men excel at non-verbal cues because they are so efficient--they communicate plenty without weighing us down with unnecessary verbiage. And they are able to be so ruthlessly efficient because we all know what they mean. Fist bump? Dude nod? Salute? Eye roll? Throat clear? Any man can tell you exactly what each of those signs mean when passed from dude to dude.
But when they come from a woman? Might as well be Sanskrit.
So when you grimace as you stretch and rub your tense shoulders, we understand that you are saying something. We just don't understand what. Because if another dude did that, we would know: wow, his shoulder must be bothering him. Probably the old football injury. And that's that.
With a woman, it could be any number of things. The aforementioned shoulder pain. A slight neck crick. A need to stretch. An itch that must be scratched. Then there are the emotional needs that are layered in: does she want me to rub her shoulders? Massage her neck? Help stretch her out? Scratch her back? Buy her a day at the spa?
Or is she saying something completely different, like, my psychic and spiritual needs aren't being met?
Or maybe she doesn't like the paint color on the wall in the spare bedroom?
Or possibly that she just remembered the sudden death of her kitten Whiskers, back when she was seven years old, and how her father buried the cat without mentioning it to her and she spent three hours in the rain trying to find the unmarked grave by slashing at the ground with a shovel as tears poured down her cheeks and lightning flashed in the sky, and that spasm in her shoulder now reminds her that she has never appropriately dealt with the unresolved tension she carries for her father, who's now deceased himself, and so you must become the surrogate father figure who must apologize and buy her a new kitten so she can once again become emotionally whole?
At least when we're trying to decode baseball signs, there's a strong possibility the answer might be "bunt".
That's why, when you ladies start flashing more signs than Tony LaRussa, we men get really quiet. It's not because we're disinterested; it's not because we aren't trying to decode; it's because our brains are working at a geometric rate to try and extrapolate every possible meaning of the code and then run statistical probability factors to determine which possible meaning is somewhat close to the intended one.
In short, our brains are working harder than NSA/CIA codebreaking computers. We are so completely consumed with not only getting your message but getting it correct, that we devote 99% of our mental energy towards arriving at the conclusion.
Why not all of our attention, you say? What about that remaining 1%?
Well that's dedicated to thinking of what your response might be if we actually get it right.