Getting your man to talk – How most woman get it wrong – Part 1

Woman with nail in forehead communication problems

It’s not about the Nail is still one of my favourite short videos but I’d like to flip this topic on its head and talk about listening to men.  In my work as a marriage therapists who specialises in helping couples communicate it is pretty common for couples to enter the counselling room with an assumption that the woman in the relationship is the superior communicator.  This is normally based on the fact that typically (not always there are exceptions to every rule) she talks more, she will say its important to communicate and she will initiate conversations and invite her partner to talk to her.  Now these can be very positive steps in the relationships however without a particular type of listening a woman will have very limited success in getting a man to continue to talk.  Typically when she breaches these two rule the man will simply stop talking.

What most woman are looking for in a listening conversation is Empathy, a right brain limbic response.  Despite the protests about men trying to fix their problems the fact is that women offer solutions all the time to other women and to their men and are happy to receive solutions IF they feel the sense of limbic resonance that occurs when someone activates their mirror neuron network (check out this post for more on the mirror neuron network) and feels with them.  This is clearly shown in the video when the guys says, “that sounds .. tough,”.

What men are typically looking for is Validation.  Validation is largely a left brain cortical response that says, “You make sense to me, you are not a crazy person, I understand why you think the way you do.  Note it does not necessarily mean you agree.  When a man gets Validation he is then open for Empathy, which enables him to feel more connected and a man will feel very loved when he receives care in this order.

So the first rule is Validation first, then Empathy.  When a guy has a problem he wants to fix it and so he will be collating information in the back of his head at the TPJ (temporal parietal junction) and feeding it forward to his left prefrontal cortex to problem solve. He will actively be avoiding his emotional connection with his right limbic brain so that he does not get overwhelmed and feel helpless.  A woman who listens to his work issues and says, “wow that’s so tough, or so unfair, you must feel really humiliated,” i.e. showing wonderful Empathy is actively drawing him into his right limbic brain – which for most guys is unfamiliar and highly uncomfortable.  

Corpus Callosum
Corpus Callosum

There is a very real brain reason for this difference. Most women have up to 80% more connections in the corpus collossum the thick band of neural connections that bridge the left and right hemisphere of the brain.  This means that jumping back and forth between right and left hemisphere’s is quick and easy.  This is what enables women to link emotional and logical processes very easily whereas men tend to do them one at a time.  First logic then emotion.  Reversing this order is additionally difficult for men for a reason I will discuss next week.

However when a woman Validates a man’s actions or thought processes, “Yeah it makes sense that you felt mad, I can see why you hate that guy, I understand that you wanna move to Alaska and live in an igloo,” it acts as a clearing house for his thoughts.  NB you are not agreeing to go to Alaska to live in an igloo with him you are just saying that you understand his work environment today was so tough that Alaska sounded awesome.”  Validation in this context is essentially thought empathy and men find it incredibly soothing – and it enables them to move on to more productive thoughts and problem solving.

The biggest benefit for the woman is that the guy just learnt that he can share his slightly crazy thoughts and he will be understood, accepted and loved – and men will take a bullet for a woman like that.  I have on countless occasions coached a woman to listen, summarise what her partner says and say, “I listened carefully to you and what you said makes sense to me,” and seen the man’s eyes well up with tears and he breathes out this huge sigh of relief – because suddenly he is not alone in his world.  At this point empathy can be added and it provides an additional layer of connection.

So try it this week, just casually in a conversation with a man, just nod as he talks and then just say, “yeah I get that it makes sense to me.”  You may find this introduces a new problem for you where they want to talk to you all the time (or they may just grunt and nod – but they are 100 times more likely to talk to you again) …

Happy Validating – Next week we will look at how to give advice and the most important thing to avoid.

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