When I was in school, a female teacher one day caught a bunch of boys talking in the class and said, “Stop gossiping like village women.” That phrase got stuck in my mind and I wondered why women, not men, were associated with talking and gossiping.
In our culture, as is in many other cultures, marriage is a big event and many guests are invited. Men and women are served food in separate rooms.
I’ve been to many such functions in my childhood and I found often myself in a room full of older men who’d never utter a word for hours and when they did it was almost always about sports, politics, and other current events.
Few short sentences here and there, and an occasional roaring, nervous laughter, more indicative of wanting the other person to shut up than of pleasure.
On the contrary, the women’s room always buzzed with noise and laughter. They’d talk endlessly for hours and seemed to completely enjoy it.
Purpose of talking for men and women
Women, on average, talk more than men because talking for women isn’t the same as it is for men. It’s not that men don’t talk much. They do, but only about a few things.
For men, talking is a means to communicate facts and information. They can go on and on when they’re describing how a machine works or how they found the fastest route to arrive at the current destination. They can go on and on while talking about a subject they’re passionate about.
For women, talking is a means to bond and build relationships with people. They can go on and on about their day-to-day to problems and discuss their relationships.
Talking helps women to cope with stress. To feel better, the average woman would rather talk about her problems for half-an-hour than receive solutions within five minutes.
Two men who’re strangers to each other rarely bond when they’re travelling on a plane, bus, or a train. On the other hand, two women who don’t know each other are likely to bond while travelling together and may share the most intimate details about themselves and their relationships with each other.
This is why you’ll find women dominating professions where it is required to build relationships with people via talking such as counselling, teaching, nursing, and customer service.
Vocabulary and multi-tracking
Since men don’t talk much, they feel the precise meaning of a word is important. If they find a word that helps them be more laconic in their speech, that’d be great. They prefer to communicate maximum information in minimum words.
Vocabulary isn’t as important for women who rely more on voice tone and nonverbal signals while communicating. So, while a man may find himself rushing to a dictionary after coming across a new word in a movie, a woman will have already guessed the meaning correctly just by voice tone and non-verbal signals of the actors.
A man’s sentences are short and solution-oriented and he needs to get to the end of the sentence to convey the point of his message. He can’t leave what he’s talking about and start a new conversation in the middle of the conversation.
Women, however, are experts in this type of multi-tracking. They can multi-track various points at different times in the conversation. One minute they’re talking about this new dress they bought and another minute they’re talking about a fight they had with a friend last week, within the same conversation.
To put it simply: men can talk about one thing at a time while women can talk about multiple things at a time. If men are interrupted in the middle of what they’re saying they feel frustrated because they need to complete their sentence to make their point.
But women are likely to interrupt men because they can handle multiple topics at the same time and they feel that the more two-way talking there is the more intimate the conversation. Men also interrupt, but only when they’re trying to be competitive or aggressive.
Watch comedian Louis CK describing his experience of listening to his wife’s stories:
Not being direct with their speech helps women to build relationships and rapport and avoid aggression or confrontation. This is probably why they’re often accused of being passive-aggressive. When a woman is mad at her man, she’s less likely to confront him because she’s hardwired to build and maintain relationships.
She’s more likely to use indirect speech and beat around the bush, expecting her man to figure out on his own why she’s mad at him. He, on the other hand, can’t figure out shit unless he’s told things upfront and directly.
He: Why are you mad at me?
She: You’re supposed to know.
Evolutionary origins of talking styles
Since ancestral men hunted, talking wasn’t their speciality. They could sit for hours tracking their prey without saying a word. Also, they had to use short sentences to communicate maximum information because making too much noise or talking for long could alert the prey or predators.
When modern men go fishing together they may speak for only 5% of the time and yet have a good time together. When women hang out and don’t talk, something’s not right.
A talking woman is a happy woman. If she talks a lot then it’s almost a guarantee she likes the person she’s talking to, not necessarily in a romantic way. This is why when a woman is angry with someone she says, “Don’t talk to me!”
Men rarely issue such warnings because they don’t give as much importance to talking.
Ancestral women spent most of their time gathering and looking after the young. This required them to bond well with others, especially with fellow women.
These sex differences start early
Research has revealed that the part of the brain responsible for speech develops more rapidly in girls than in boys.1 This means girls, on average, will speak earlier and with more complexity than boys.
Another study showed that young girls (aged 9-15) show significantly greater activation in language areas of the brain than boys while doing language tasks.2
Also, studies show that girls have higher levels of a protein associated with speech and language in their brain’s cortex.3 The higher levels of this language protein, called Foxp2, is found in the more communicative of each species.
- Pease, A., & Pease, B. (2016). Why Men Don’t Listen & Women Can’t Read Maps: How to spot the differences in the way men & women think. Hachette UK.
- Burman, D. D., Bitan, T., & Booth, J. R. (2008). Sex differences in neural processing of language among children. Neuropsychologia, 46(5), 1349-1362.
- Society for Neuroscience. (2013, February 19). Language protein differs in males, females. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 5, 2017 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/02/130219172153.htm
Hanan Parvez (M.B.A., M.A. Psychology) has written 300+ articles at www.psychmechanics.com, a blog with over 3 million views and 100k monthly visitors. His work has been featured on Forbes, Business Insider, Reader’s Digest, and Entrepreneur.