Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Are Actions "Direct Communication?"

In the "Family Life" class we are discussing gender differences in communication.

One difference is that women are more inclined to communicate their love in words, while men do it with actions. To take an example we used in class, a woman complained that her husband never told her that he loved her. "What do you mean," says he, "I washed your car, didn't I?"

Another difference is that men are more likely to be direct in speech - directly addressing a topic, and speaking directly to the person they are trying to communicate with. Women are more likely to be indirect - introducing the subject indirectly, and speaking to a third party in the expectation that the message will eventually get back to the person they are trying to communicate with.

One female student took communicating love through actions - a man washing his wife's car - to be indirect. I realized from this conversation that I had simply been assuming actions to be direct communication. The difference illustrates the point we had been discussing.

I would be curious to know your reactions to this question. It would probably be useful to name your gender in your response, if that is not obvious.

14 comments:

Caitlin said...

I vote that washing a car is NOT direct communication.

Have you read the book "The Five Love Languages" by Gary Chapman? Despite its religious undertones, it's an interesting manual about communication in relationships.

Victoria Wheeler said...

I vote it's not direct communication, and I'm hopefully obviously from the name, female.

I was also going to reference the Five Love Languages, which is pretty good about not labeling things as direct or not (or really gendering them), but discusses all actions that convey love, and also how the disconnect happens with people who speak other "love languages."

Women in that do statistically prefer "acts of service" and "words of affirmation," however, and guys overwhelmingly "physical affection." (Although Chapman himself wonders if that wasn't sex, if that'd really be their love language... as in, holding a hand, etc.) Either way, point being, if you haven't read it, it's a fun one.

Benjamin said...

My wife and I have discussed something similar MANY times. She, as a female, often communicates through 'subtle hints' that she expects me to be able to pick up on and accurately interpret. I claim that I shouldn't be held accountable for not understanding those subtle hints because, as a male, I am hard-wired to communicate differently (debates on biological sex vs. gender socialization notwithstanding...) and thus shouldn't be expected to be able to understand that communication because it's literally a foreign language to me. Intellectually we both agree and understand these communication differences, but emotionally it can still be frustrating at times when we get our communication wires crossed in situations such as these.

Adriana said...

Have you incorporated some Tannen into this discussion? I love the way she discusses gendered differences in communication/discourse styles and why these may be.

Gruntled said...

This discussion is derived from Tannen, specifically You Just Don't Understand, which is a staple of my "Family Life" class.

Kerri said...

I vote that actions (such as cleaning up, helping out, tending to the other if one is sick, cooking dinner, etc) are indirect communication. However, I would think that in a healthy relationship BOTH members do such things, so I'm not sure that these sort of indirect love actions are consistently gender-related. Rather, I think that females are socialized to need a little extra direct affirmation on top of other considerate acts.

Bart E. said...

Though we love each other deeply after 23 years together we still disagree. I see her indirectness as sneaky and my wife sees my directness as rudeness.

Dana said...

What Kerri said.

I have not read "The Five Love Languages", but I have a friend who read it and swore by it. The more I hear about it, though, the more I think it's too simplistic and reflects our socialization. It doesn't require that people of both genders really look inside and see why they do things.

Dana (female)

Katie said...

Actions are either direct and indirect depending on the definition you are looking to use. When a man washes his wife's car, the action doesn't really have "intervening persons, conditions, or agencies." However, since an action can be more open to interpretation than words, actions fail to meet the "straightforward and candid; frank" definition. Which definition are you going with for this discussion?

Anonymous said...

As a lesbian, I've had a few long-term female partners. I find that each woman requires different manifestations of affirmation in the relationship, different ways of communicating affection. One woman I dated preferred actions, like you say men prefer. When she missed class, I copied my notes for her. To me, no big deal. But to her, that mean a lot. Alternatively, I prefer spending quality time to affirm our relationship. To assume that men and woman communicate differently is to polarize the genders, when in reality (and for homosexual couples looking to redefine gender roles) does not exist.

Let culture change and adapt, as it has always done and will continue to do.

Gruntled said...

"I prefer spending quality time to affirm our relationship"
Spend it doing, or talking? What actions lead to the affirmation of the relationship?

Paula P. said...

Gruntled do you agree that gender differences don't exist?

Gruntled said...

I think gender differences obviously exist - that is why we have the whole concept of gender. I think gender differences are partly based on sex differences. I don't think the nature/nurture debate can be quantitatively settled, but I think the division is about 50/50.

Victoria Wheeler said...

Dana: I'm no really sure how Chapman is simplistic in reflecting socialization, since the author is very careful about making it clear that EITHER gender can have any love language as their main one; he's not trying to push any certain gender roles at all. This makes sense, as the point of his book is to provide practical advice for couples. If he adds stereotyped gender roles for each language, he runs the risk of alienating part of his audience who may not "fit." The statistics (not gathered in the book I had but at least once findable on his website) are from the online test, which is of course also going to be really skewed since people taking the test have not necessarily taken the class for nuance and can also lie about their age/gender/etc.

You're very right to point out that that Chapman does not offer reflection on gendered reasons why people do things, of course. Again, he seeks only to give practical advice which doesn't mean asking why you want or give that type of affection, but instead only to teach you to speak your partner's "language."

Chapman does address the "direct" and "indirect" question a lot more clearly than Tannen, but he unfortunately does not do it in a way that directly ties in gender or more scholarly sociological analysis (which is of course what we want from this discussion)!