May 5, 2014

Could vs Would - How to Communicate with Martians

Could vs Would - How to Communicate with Martians | Business, Life & Design

Everyone's heard of "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus," right?  If you haven't, it's a relationship coaching book (and apparently a website now, too) that uses an old school rhyme to make a point, and as a fun theme to kind of tie the book together.  If I recall correctly, we used to chant something like this:

Girls go to Mars
to get more candy bars
Boys go to Jupiter
to get more stupider

As we got older, we got more creative at adapting the rhyme and the planet of choice was often Venus.  I'm sure you can imagine the rest...

Anyway, I finally read the book, partially out of a desire to improve my own communication and party out of curiosity to see what the big deal was.  While the author has a tendency to sound smug and self-congratulatory, and there were a couple things Significant and I didn't agree with, a good portion of it is spot on!  Here's some of the highlights:
  • Brevity vs Courtesy - I'll start with a pretty common one.  Women like to be subtle, both to be polite and because they'd like for their partner to do something for them just because it's a considerate thing to do.  Men tend to be blunt.  If it isn't said directly, they'll often miss the point or feel that whatever task was mentioned wasn't urgent, because it was discussed in a casual way.  Tip: Ladies, Use Short Sentences!  I know it's hard, but it works.
  • The Point System - Women and men keep points differently.  Now, this is not a conscious thing.  We're not actually assigning points.  But you know the feeling where you've done more work and you're starting to resent your roommate/partner/whoever because they've done less?  That's the point system.  Women assign the same number of points to each task, while men give points according to difficulty.  So if a man completes a major chore, he feels like he's done for a while, while a woman would prefer many small things to only one large one.
  • Nagging vs Reminding - I was at a total loss here, until the book helped me out.  Here's the difference: nagging points out the person's failure to complete the task.  Reminding is simply asking again.  There's no need to rub someone's face in the fact that he or she (Who am I kidding, it's probably he) forgot to do something.
  • Different Values - Men tend to value competence.  Women tend to value respect.  This means they prefer different approaches when it comes to requesting favors and leads into the main point.
Cartoon showing miscommunication between genders | Business, Life & Design

Would vs Could!

To a man, "Can you take out the trash?" is a silly question.  Of course he can.  Are you doubting his competence?  To him, it's not simply another way of asking him to do so; it's a different question entirely.  To a woman, "Will you take out the trash?" is abrupt and maybe even rude.  It's assuming that she doesn't have any good reason to refuse and it doesn't allow her to say no without saying, "I don't want to."  For a man, this typically wouldn't be a problem.  Not wanting to do something is a perfectly valid reason... for men.  Women, on the other hand, usually prefer to be more polite, and more aware of the other person'a feelings.  Saying "I don't want to" doesn't just mean "I don't want to take out the trash" it means "I do not value your needs enough to be willing to do this for you."  So we give ourselves an out, by prefacing requests with "Could you?"  Could implies that you might very well have a good reason to refuse, but if you don't it would be very much appreciated.  Could is more polite... to a woman.

So what it comes down to is our different values.  Men do not appreciate having their competence questioned and since they don't place as much value on politeness, a question like "When you get a chance, could you take out the trash?" is just long-winded and unnecessary.  I've switched my approach with Significant to "Will you" or "Will you please" for most things and it seems to be working well.  It still feels rude to me, but he always accepts it at face value.

After discussing these things with Significant, I thought, "Ok, well this is great, but I'll still use my regular method of speech for the outside world."  Turns out, the guys I work with respond the same way.  After a fairly heated discussion with a coworker, who insisted that the word "can" is evil and implies no confidence in the other person's abilities, I gave in.  Apparently abruptness is appreciated by most (many?  just the ones I happened to talk to?) men in communication whether or not you're in a relationship.  I, on the other hand, still prefer "Could you please?" or "If you don't mind."  Maybe, one day, some of these men will pick up a book and learn about my communication preferences...  Or maybe not.  :P

What relationship tips have you learned?