Serving Waffles from Venus
On a recent episode of Grey’s Anatomy, titled “What is it About Men?” the prologue offered a rapid fire series of events with each male character pointing out the differences between men and women. The dialogue went like this:
There are distinct differences between male and female brains.
Female brains have a larger hippocampus, which usually makes them better at retention and memory.
Male brains have a bigger parietal cortex, which helps when fending off an attack.
Male brains confront challenges differently than female brains.
Women are hardwired to communicate with language, detail, and empathy.
Men – not so much.
It doesn’t mean that we are any less capable of emotion. We can talk about our feelings. It’s just that, most of the time, we really rather not.
Any wife, mother of a son, or woman serving in the workplace, can affirm that there are differences between men and women. Reflected in the various books and studies available with titles like Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus and Men are Like Waffles, Women are Like Spaghetti, along with the vast array of self-help articles on how men and women can understand each other, there must be something to the differences in how men and women communicate.
It is true that God, in his great wisdom (and maybe even a little sense of humor) created men and women to complement each other and how we communicate is one more way that this complementarity is seen. It is not that one gender communicates better than the other; rather it is that we communicate differently. Linguistic specialist Deborah Tannen refers to this as a genderlect. In the same vein that various regions of the country have their own dialects, each gender has its own genderlect or pattern of speech. And, it is only as we understand each other’s genderlect that our quality of communication increases.1
Women serving the local church will naturally be working alongside and under the authority of men. Many women who serve on church staffs will find they are the only woman among men, and they must learn to adjust their genderlect in order to communicate clearly.
As a woman who has served the local church and now the denomination for over twenty years, I have had my share of serving with men, being the only woman in many meetings, and struggling to communicate in ways that I can be heard without sounding like one of “those women.” Through my journey of learning how to work best with men I have learned a few things along the way. First, and foremost, all communication must be sifted through the biblical sieve of “Whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” (Col 3:17) But, in addition to this overarching biblical guide, there are some specific tips that I can share with my fellow Venetians who are serving with waffles on Mars.
- Email in bullet-points not in narrative – Men are naturally bottom-line problem solvers. They do not necessarily want to hear all the multidimensional, full color detail and back-story. What men do want to know is the bottom line and how they can help fix it. If you email in long narrative, most men will still simply skim to find the bottom line. Likewise, if you send a 3 paragraph email and receive a one-sentence response, don’t be offended. They are talking in their bottom line, bullet point genderlect.
- There’s no crying in staff meeting – There are times to express appropriate emotion. Staff meeting is generally not that time. As women we get emotional when we are tired, frustrated, happy, angry, sad, hurt, thrilled, . . . you name it; the tears can come for a thousand different reasons. It is true that many men really don’t know what to do with a crying woman and will be unable to hear what you are trying to communicate. (That goes for husbands as well as our bosses.) Try to control your emotions until you can get back to your office, close your door, and then have your cry
- Speak in waffle squares not spaghetti strings – There is a reason men are likened to waffles. They operate best in one little square at a time. Women are spaghetti in that God has given us the ability to quickly change hats and topics without taking a breath. Realize that men sometimes do not understand us because they just do not follow our train of thought. Try to communicate one topic at a time, even if your mind is also thinking about your grocery list, the hospital visit you need to make, the fun you had at the block party last weekend, and the women’s conference kicking off in 48 hours.
- Realize interjections are really interruptions– Women tend to overlap each other, interjecting comments or words of agreement while another is speaking. It is our way to stay engaged, add to the conversation, and communicate that we are hearing what another is saying. Men, however, interpret interjecting as interrupting and, at times, interpreted as disrespectful. When someone starts speaking over a man, he immediately feels as if he has been shut down. Fight the urge to interject, even though you feel like it just adds more to the conversation.
- Use words not body language – I have always loved the Mamie McCullough book title “I’m Not Waving, I’m Drowning!” As much as we would like to think so, men do not read our minds nor do they read our body language. If you are tired and overburdened with a task, don’t depend on your demeanor, heavy sighs, and look of busyness to express your cry for help clearly. That is a message that will never be heard. Rather, ask for what you need. Be direct. It is okay to say, “I need help.”
Our tongues and our words are powerful. Most relationship issues can be traced back to poor communication and working relationships in the church are no exceptions.
As we serve alongside our brothers in Christ, we are to continually show them respect, let them be our warriors and our advocates, do more listening and less talking, and be okay with the fact that they communicate more working alongside someone than they ever will with a face to face conversation. We need to learn to serve with waffles on Mars even though we would really like to sit down and have a long spaghetti conversation on Venus.
“Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer one another.” (Col 4:6)
1 Tannen, Deborah. You Just Don’t Understand: Men and Women in Conversation. New York: Ballantine Books, 1990.