Gender differences exist, and scientists are still discovering more disparities. Besides the obvious physical differences in size, shape and strength, men and women often react differently to medications. Women also have better night vision and better visual memory, while men have better distance vision and depth perception. Gender differences have also been studied in the act of listening.
According to Larry Barker and Kittie Watson, authors of the book “Listen Up,” men and women typically employ different listening styles. Men are more likely to be action-oriented listeners, which means they focus on listening to information pertinent to the task at hand. Action-oriented listeners have little patience for speakers who ramble off topic or include unnecessary details. Women are more likely to be people-oriented listeners. They connect with the emotional message and undertones of a conversation and are more concerned with the occurrence of the conversation than with the pertinent information discussed.
Men and women in listening roles during conversations tend to express their responsiveness in different ways. Women often interject with small acknowledging remarks such as “yes,” “I see” and “mm-hmm” to show the speaker that they are actively listening and processing the contents of the conversation. Men tend to listen silently, interjecting sparsely and usually only to ask clarification. The difference in response style can cause women to assume that men aren’t actively listening to them in conversations, while men tend to think that women "overlisten."
The difference in listening habits of men and women is more than just perceptual. A study by Dr. Micheal Phillips, a neuroaudiologist at the Indiana University School of Medicine, found gender differences in the brain activity of men and women. Brain imaging scans showed that the left brain hemisphere of men in the study was activated while listening, while both hemispheres were activated in women. This data suggests that there is a physical difference in listening between men and women.
Despite all the research targeted at dissecting gender differences in listening, little to no evidence suggests that members of one gender are better listeners than members of the other. Men and women can listen equally well. Listening ability appears to be more due to individual differences and circumstances than due to gender.
- Listen Up: How to Improve Relationships, Reduce Stress, and Be More Productive by Using the Power of Listening; Larry L. Barker, Ph.D., and Kittie W. Watson, Ph.D.
- Interpersonal Communication Listening and Responding; James S. O’Rourke and Sandra D. Collins
- Radiology: Temporal Lobe Activation Demonstrates Sex-Based Differences During Passive “Listening”
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