Tailor Your Content to Your Audience

man, woman in conversation

Man & Woman Talking

Men and women seem to be interested in different things, and this can manifest itself in conflict over the way we talk to one another. But we can find common ground.

By: Marianne J. Legato, FACP and Laura Tucker

Men and women seem to be interested in different things, and this can manifest itself in conflict over the way we talk to one another. One of the first things we can do to address this difference is to make sure that we’re tailoring our communication to fit our audience. You know exactly what I mean, because this is something we already do with our female friends.

Let me give you an example. I am perfectly capable of commenting on the cut of a new coat or the sophistication of a pattern on a silk scarf, but I don’t share these details with my friend Anne, because I know that she’s not at all interested in fashion. Correspondingly, Anne doesn’t share her enthusiasm for the turbo-boosting options she adds to her computer except in the most general terms, out of respect for my lack of passion for the topic. We do talk — endlessly and to both of our tremendous satisfaction — about books. Anne and I are interested in different things, but we have found common ground.

Many relationships between men and women might also benefit from a similar sensitivity. Why don’t we extend the same courtesy to our spouses as we do to our friends, by focusing our conversation on topics of interest to both of us? As I write this, there is a book of straight-talking relationship advice on the New York Timesbest seller list called He’s Just Not That Into You. To borrow the phrase — and the spirit in which it is offered — I say to the woman trying to get her husband to keep up his end of the conversational bargain: “Maybe he’s just not that interested in what you’re saying!”

The same, of course, goes for men. One of my colleagues told me about a communication breakthrough he’d had with his wife. Between the staff at the hospital he works with and his patients, he comes in contact with thousands of people every day, while his wife is home with their children. “She was always asking me what was going on at the hospital, and then she’d be unsatisfied with my answers about our end-of-the-year projections and operating expenses. Over time, I realized that she wants me to tell her stories — about cranky patients, interesting case studies, staff gossip. So now as I go through my day, I mentally bookmark little things I think she’ll like to hear later and bring them home to her. It’s like bringing her flowers!”

By making sure he’s telling her the kinds of things she likes to hear about, my colleague increases the amount of communication in his marriage and gives his wife some insight into the part of the day he spends away from her. His wife didn’t want to audit the hospital’s balance sheet; she was trying to get a fuller picture of her husband’s interior life and emotions. So it probably isn’t even the story of the cranky patient she enjoys, but hearing how he dealt with that patient and how that interaction made him feel.

One way, then, that we can improve communication between the sexes is to tailor the content of our conversations to our listener — just as I do with Anne.

About the Authors:
Marianne J. Legato, FACP, is an internationally known academic physician, author, and lecturer. She is a professor of clinical medicine at Columbia University, where she founded and heads the Partnership for Gender-Specific Medicine. One of the world’s foremost experts on gender medicine and winner of many awards for her work, she is the author of The Female Heart, What Women Need to Know, andEve’s Rib. She recently edited the widely acclaimed academic textbook, Principles of Gender-Specific Medicine.

Laura Tucker is the coauthor of several health and medical books. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband and daughter.

Copyright © 2005 Marianne J. Legato, MD, FACP and Laura Tucker

Reprinted from: Why Men Never Remember and Women Never Forget by Marianne J. Legato, MD, FACP and Laura Tucker © 2005 Rodale Inc. Permission granted by Rodale, Inc., Emmaus, PA 18098. Available wherever books are sold or directly from the publisher by calling (800) 848-4735 or visit their website at www.rodalestore.com

Photo: dennoir