Have you ever had a conversation with a client, spouse or friend that left you saying, “You just don’t understand”? Men and women are definitely wired differently in terms of how they communicate. Understanding these differences can improve both your business and personal communication.

Have you ever had a conversation with a client, spouse or friend that left you saying, “You just don’t understand”?

Men and women are definitely wired differently in terms of how they communicate. Understanding these differences can improve both your business and personal communication.

Last month at the Awesome Females in Real Estate conference, Debbie Ashbrook of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate LLC gave a talk based upon the book, “Men Are Like Waffles, Women Are Like Spaghetti.” While there are always exceptions to the rule, Ashbrook’s premise struck a strong chord with the all-female audience.

In short, “men are like waffles” references the fact that men tend to compartmentalize. To illustrate this point, think of a waffle. The man starts in one “box” or compartment in the waffle. He needs to resolve what is in that compartment before going on to the next idea or concept.

On the other hand, “women are like spaghetti” references how women tend to start a train of thought and then let it run without a break, much like a strand of spaghetti.

It’s easy to see how this can be a point where male-female communication breaks down. Men often become frustrated when women launch into a stream of multiple ideas, while other women have no problem following the conversation. Conversely, women become frustrated when they have to backtrack to explain a previous point they thought they had already covered.

To communicate more effectively with your clients, follow these four suggestions:

1. Ask probing questions. Ideally, your male clients should talk about 80 percent of the time.

2. Be direct. Use bullet points and avoid rambling.

3. When you’re tempted to interrupt or finish a man’s sentence, take a sip of water and count to three.

4. Supply your male clients with additional data until they are ready to go on to the next topic.

Waffling on time

A classic example of “waffle vs. spaghetti” occurs in terms of how male and female clients approach time. Men normally allot a certain amount of time to each task. If you exceed that amount of time, you are cutting into time that has been allocated to something else.

Women, on the other hand, focus on task completion rather than the time it takes. To illustrate this point, consider the differences in how most men and women shop. A man typically decides what he wants and sets out to buy it. He will walk into the store, decide on the item he wants, try it on if necessary, pay for it and leave.

A woman, on the other hand, may find the perfect dress in the first store where she looks. Nevertheless, she will continue to shop until she has verified that there is not a better deal or a better dress out there somewhere.”

Consequently, it’s smart to start your showings on time and always end early. In terms of when you tell clients when you will complete something, always tell them that it will take longer than you anticipate. The result of taking these two steps is that by finishing on time or early, you appear efficient and organized.

Direct vs. indirect

American men are generally direct in their communication, while American women tend to be indirect. A number of years ago I heard a seminar speaker use her own marriage to illustrate this point.

The speaker had married late and had always dreamed of receiving flowers on her birthday. As her birthday neared, she dropped hints about other women who had received flowers for their birthdays. When she was out with her husband, she always pointed out how beautiful the flowers were in various places they visited.

When her birthday came, there were no flowers. Devastated, she asked her husband why he didn’t send her flowers after she dropped so many hints. His response: “I thought you wanted to plant a rose garden!”

The bottom line is that if you want a man to do something, tell him what you want — don’t imply it!”

The direct vs. indirect metric applies cross-culturally as well. Cultures where getting to the point or being direct is desirable include the U.S., Australia, Canada, the Middle East, and Southern Europe. Cultures in which you “imply the message” (are indirect) include China, Japan and India.

Look them in the eye or not?

Societies where direct communication is preferred usually prefer to “look the other person in the eye” to see if that person is communicating truthfully. Asian societies typically avoid direct eye contact, as do people from the U.K. where staring is considered to be rude.

There’s an additional dynamic to take into consideration. While Americans generally prefer to be direct, many American millennials often feel uncomfortable looking people directly in the eye. Because they’re so accustomed to relying on digital communication, direct eye contact, especially in a confrontational situation, makes them extremely uncomfortable.

The most important communication question

When you first start working with your clients, notice how they communicate with you and others. Are they direct or indirect? Do they look other people in the eye, or do they look away? Do they run from idea to idea or process one idea at a time? The secret is to match their communication style. This may mean that you use one style for one of your buyers and something quite different for a second buyer.

In addition to the strategies outlined above, there’s one final step you must take to communicate more effectively with your clients: Ask, “How would you like me to communicate with you?”

A rule of thumb is that if your clients text you, text them back. If they call on the phone, call them back.

Ultimately, your goal is to match their style. While you may be uncomfortable being stuck in the waffle box or following that strand of spaghetti, it’s just plain smart business to do so whenever possible.

Bernice Ross, CEO of RealEstateCoach.com, is a national speaker, author and trainer with over 1,000 published articles and two best-selling real estate books. Discover why leading Realtor associations and companies have chosen Bernice’s new and experienced real estate sales training for their agents at www.RealEstateCoach.com/AgentTraining and www.RealEstateCoach.com/newagent.

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