The Role of Culture & Gender in Listening

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  • 0:01 Listening & Stereotypes
  • 1:13 Nature vs. Nurture
  • 2:07 Listening Styles
  • 3:07 Low Context vs. High Context
  • 4:52 Monochronic vs. Polychronic
  • 5:29 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

Are women better listeners than men? Does culture affect how you listen? In this lesson, we'll look at the listening styles of men and women, as well as those found in the East and the West.

Listening & Stereotypes

As a mom, I've said the words, 'Listen to me!' As a wife, I've asked the words, 'Why won't you listen to me?' And as a friend, I've heard the words, 'I feel like you're not listening to me.' With all these phrases centering on listening, it's not hard to believe it when researchers say adults spend the most amount of their communicative time - about 45% - on listening. In light of this, a lesson on listening seems more than appropriate. Let's turn our attention to the topic of the roles that gender and culture play in life's game of listening.

Let's start with gender. When it comes to listening and gender, things are not nearly as cut and dry as most would assume. Yes, the stereotypes say that women are better listeners than men. But are women biologically wired to be better listeners?

According to research on the topic, the answer just might be no. Yes, hands down women are perceived as better listeners. However, the reason might be because of nurture rather than nature. In other words, perhaps women aren't biologically hard wired to be better listeners. Perhaps society has simply claimed it as so.

Nature vs. Nurture

For example, according to the paper, Listening and Gender: Stereotypes and Explanations, effective listening traits, such as empathy and attentiveness, are considered feminine. Therefore, these traits are naturally ascribed, from the cradle on, to women.

In a 'which came first, the chicken or the egg' sort of way, many scientists argue that women are only seen as more effective listeners because listening is considered feminine. As put forth by the sociology team of Borisoff & Hahn, could it be that women are only considered better listeners because females have historically been relegated to the role of receiver and listener, while men have been assigned the role of the speaker?

Like many questions posed by science, the jury is still out. However, it looks like the verdict is leaning toward women being nurtured as better listeners rather than being better listeners by nature.

Listening Styles

Realizing that stereotypes may be at the bottom of all of this, there are definitely some perceived differences in the way men and women listen. One study found that men tend to employ a time-oriented listening style, in which facts, completing interactions, and achieving goals are paramount. Due to this, men, more so than women, may tend to stop listening when they have all the information they deem necessary.

The same study reported that women are more inclined to use a people-oriented listening style. In other words, they listen for the emotions of the speaker, more so than facts. For women, time and tasks are not first and foremost - feelings are. Due to this, women tend to give more verbal listening cues than men. They say things like, 'Oh,', 'Hmmm,' or 'Ahh,' to indicate they're following along. Women also tend to give more eye contact during a conversation than men. This people-oriented listening style often makes women look more adept at lending a listening ear.

Low Context vs. High Context

Moving away from stereotypes, there are some studies that seem to give some solid information about listening styles and skills. In them, whether speaking of males or females, the American culture doesn't always come out at the top of the class.

For example, Malaysians and Indians, regardless of gender, are more likely to be attentive listeners than their American counterparts. One reason for this is that cultures like America, which tend to focus on the individual, place less emphasis on listening than cultures that are more group oriented.

Western cultures also tend to employ low-context communication. This means that people from places like the U.S. and Europe gather meaning through verbal cues and words, rather than contextual clues. In other words, we tune in to words and details, and we take what people say at face value. Contextual clues and body language are secondary.

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