The other weekend, my husband and I were visiting some friends (husband and wife) whom we had not seen in a while. As we were leaving, the wife and I were avidly talking with each other, seemingly interrupting each other, or at least, not letting the other finish a sentence.

My husband, overhearing our “conversation”, interrupted our conversation and suggested that I let the wife finish her sentence. What he did not realize is that the wife and I were engaging in an activity natural to women and peculiar to the female gender. As Jan Frankel Schau and Nina Meierding explain in the article, Negotiating Like a Woman-How Gender Impacts Communication Between the Sexes:

 Gender differences may not only dictate how the parties speak, but how they listen as well. Women tend to use more “insertions” – asking short questions, nodding, etc. while the other party is speaking. This is done in order to seek out more information and to show support and understanding by the listener to the speaker and is intended as a validation and encouragement. Women are generally more accustomed to this style of overlapping speech. However, men may see this overlapping speech not as reinforcement and empathy, but as interruption. If a man wants to “report talk” and get his point across, he finds overlapping speech annoying and disruptive and may say, “Just let me know when you are finished interrupting me so that I can finish my sentence.” What was intended as validation and rapport has backfired!   (Id.)

In short, the wife and I were engaged in “overlapping speech” and not really interrupting each other.  As much as I tried to explain this to my husband, he was not buying it. Instead, he reminded me about “active listening” or that there is a reason why we have two ears and one mouth: to listen.

But active listening is different than what I was engaging in.  As explained in The  Sunday Minute on the Program on Negotiation  at Harvard Law School e-mail/blog, “active listening” is to listen carefully, effectively and fully to what another is saying, not interrupting but rather letting the other  finish completely what she is saying and then repeating back what we understand was said by the other, thereby acknowledging her position and when necessary, asking open ended questions to gather more information and a fuller understanding of what the other is stating. This technique is used in negotiation, when we are attempting to collect information, assess our assumptions, eliminate misunderstandings and create options for an outcome that is acceptable to both parties.

This kind of conversation is far different than what the wife and I were engaging in: sharing information on a very casual basis. No negotiation involved.

So… while active listening is very effective, not even the experienced female mediator will use it all the time. If only my husband could understand this!

…Just something to think about.



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