Let’s be clear. Emotional walls that get in the way of productive communication are not a gender problem. They come up (for men and women) when angry, offended, stressed or disengaged. But today is not about us.
Now, allow me to give you the insider’s scoop from my personal laboratory, a 30-year marriage marked by many successful and failed attempts at breaking down my husband’s emotional walls. To be fair, I erected some of them myself, through words or deeds, sometimes inadvertently and sometimes intentionally. Just keeping it real.
Some 20 years ago, with newfound maturity and humility under our belts, my husband and I put all our cards on the table, and he let me in on a little secret:
“I’ll spell it out for you,” he said. “A man’s ego is as fragile as an egg in a woman’s hands. One word is all it takes to crush it. Please handle with care.” Frankly, the same thing can be said of the female ego, but as I said, today is not about us.
Before I offer words and phrases that break down his walls, both at home or at work, let me offer some that will do the opposite, whether you’re in the bedroom or the boardroom:
- Combative “You always…” or “You never…” statements.
- The passive-aggressive “Whatever” as you put up your own emotional wall.
- “Nothing,” when he asks “What’s wrong?” Because you and I know that’s a lie.
On the flip side, these words or phrases have been proven to remove communication barriers and open productive dialogue time and time again:
- Can you help me? These are the four magic words that I’ve seen light up a man’s face, especially if you mean them. Hint: It takes a strong woman to accept help from a strong man.
- How can I help you? “When I hear ‘How I can help you?’ I immediately open up,” says Doug Poynter, Career Consultant of The School of Success. Hint: It takes self-discipline to withhold unsolicited advice, but doing exactly that works wonders.
- For example… “Concrete examples and illustrations get me listening more intently,” says Andrew Damon, President of Mission Energy Solutions. Hint: Have a point. Get to it quickly. Be specific.
- What would you do if you were me? Hint: Give him a chance to share his brilliance.
And the basic no-brainers (courtesy of Sam Keckler, COO of Superb Communication):
- I’m sorry.
- I was wrong.
- Thank you.
- I appreciate you.
- I respect you.
- You rock!
Having spent almost 20 years working alongside men (in male-dominated industries and workplaces), both as a subordinate, colleague, or executive coach to C-Suite and senior leaders, I have arrived at this conclusion: men are fairly simple creatures. Most of them will respond to clarity, brevity and respect.
Bottom line: No man’s wall can withstand a woman who treats that man the way she wants to be treated.