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"Hill's work presents a light, insightful, and accessible user's manual for African American men and women to better understand that which keeps us apart (and hopefully what can bring us closer together)."
The Language of Men
I’m glad I understand that while language is a gift,listening is a responsibility.
world-renowned poet, writer, commentator, activist, and educator,and a mother since 1969
A lot of the women I’ve talked to ask me what’s the bestway to effectively communicate with a man. How can awoman know what a man is really thinking if she can’t get himto talk?
It’s almost a cliché to say that men and women communicatedifferently, but it does seem to be true. We’re simply different.“It’s like my boyfriend speaks a completely different languagethan I do,” my friend Gail once said.
“That’s because he’s talking in the language of men,” myother friend, Mary, replied. The three of us were having lunch.“If you didn’t grow up with it,” Mary continued, “it may as wellbe gibberish.” She explained that she hadn’t grown up with anymen in her house, and so she’d never really learned to understandthe language of men—the sports talk, the sparse replies, the suddenand deep silences. She acknowledged that she had, on manyoccasions, interpreted her ex-boyfriend’s silences as emotionalcruelty. “I honestly thought he was just being mean, giving methe silent treatment. I’d ask him how he felt and he’d just give mea blank stare and shrug. It drove me crazy.”
Both women then turned and stared at me as if I couldmagically reveal the tools to properly decode this language thatmen speak—if and when they speak at all. Unfortunately, all Icould share were my observations.
Linguistics scholar Deborah Tannen considers male-femaleconversation a form of cross-cultural communication. The innatedifferences in how men and women think, act, listen, and thereforecommunicate are so profound that it is as if we are productsof completely different cultures. These communication differenceshave been seen as early as the age of three.
I started this book by explaining how I believe that Blackmen and Black women don’t really even talk to each other anymore.I grew up watching my grandparents sit and talk. Theytalked about everything—from the weather, to the news, to theneighbors, to the grandchildren, to their plans, and then back tothe weather again. Watching those older couples at the Blakes’home reminded me of the flow and ease of my grandparents’conversations. I loved how the men joked with one another andwith the women. I loved how the women were an integral part ofthe exchange, either adding something affirmative to their husbands’statements or putting forth an alternative view, not justtalking among themselves.
I wondered why it seemed so special to see men and womengathered together and talking. Then I remembered a panel thatI’d been a speaker on the previous year. It was an all-male relationshippanel at the Essence Music Festival in New Orleans. Iwas intrigued (and, to be honest, scared) to be a part of it becauseI wasn’t sure what was going to happen. I mean, traditionally, menare not considered big talkers—especially not when it comes torelationships.
The thesis of the panel seemed to be that through a combinationof biology, brain chemistry, and socialization, men are“doers,” while women are “feelers.” When women talk, they feelcomfortable expressing their emotions. From the outside, it seemsto be a required part of their discussions. When men talk, however,it’s usually about something specific—sports, business, homerepairs, movies, television shows, or making money. We concernourselves with the mechanics, not the emotions or the minutiaeof these things. We focus mainly on the nuts and bolts.
That, obviously, is a generalization. The truth is that if youspend enough time in a barber shop, at the pool hall, on the basketballcourt, on the golf course, or at any bachelor party, sooneror later, golden nuggets of men’s true thoughts, questions, andconcerns about women and relationships will eventually cometo the surface.
Even then, the revelation is seldom direct. It is often shroudedin humor or made to sound like apassing comment, not somethingto ponder, dissect, and commenton. If the other men do comment,those comments will invariablyalso be shrouded in humor or peppered with playful insults and invectives—kind of like what happened when Dontold us that he was going to propose to Robin.When it comes to effectively communicating with men,how a woman says something is nearly as important as what shesays. Delivery is everything. Here are three particular things Iknow men universally dislike:
Men definitely want a woman by their side who has theirbest interests at heart. However, there is a fine line betweenhaving someone’s best interests at heart and aggressively forcingan agenda on someone. If a man has made it abundantly clear, inhis actions if not with his words, that the topic you’ve decided iscrucial enough to revisit countless times means nothing to him,give up. He is not ready to deal with it. He might not say that inso many words, but key in to his nonverbal clues. If he seems toshut down completely when you bring up a subject, then maybeyou should back away a bit.
If it’s something that you can’t put off, try a different tactic.Draw him out by beginning the conversation with a question. Forexample, “How are you feeling about the recession? Is it havingany effect on you? I’d love to hear how you’re dealing with it.” Nobodylikes to feel as though they are being spoken at, rather thanbeing spoken to, and a question makes it clear that you really wantto hear his thoughts. Even if you respond with your own thoughtsand you end up with a difference of opinion, at least you’ve bothheard and listened to each other. Some women I’ve known dealwith the fact that the men in their lives don’t talk much by takingover the conversation. The only room the men are given to speak is at the end of the litany, and that doesn’t seem at all like a spacereserved for thoughtful opinion or an alternative view.
Woman: Babe, how do I look in this? Does it makeme look like I’ve gained twenty pounds?
Man (hesitantly): No, hon. You look fine. You’re as beautifulas you were the day I met you.
Woman: Is that supposed to be some sort of joke? I was thirty-five pounds heavier when I metyou. I’ve been going to the gym every day,working my ass off to look good for you,and you don’t even notice.
(Man drops his head and shakes it, suddenly losing all desire to goout to the dinner they’d been getting dressed to attend.)
Woman: Babe, how do I look in this? Does it makeme look like I’ve gained twenty pounds?
Man (hesitantly): Don’t get mad at me. You asked for thetruth, so I’ll tell you. It’s not the most fl atteringdress you own. Why don’t you wearthe red dress you wore last—
Woman (upset): I remember a time when you always usedto tell me that I was beautiful, when youreally appreciated me.
(Man drops his head and shakes it, suddenly losing all desire to goout to the dinner they’d been getting dressed to attend.)
No one wins in this situation. The woman wanted to hearthat she is still the object of her man’s affections. He thoughtshe just wanted an answer to her question, and when he realizesthat she didn’t, the man feels like he was trapped. The morethis sort of thing happens, the more frightened the man becomesabout remarking on his woman’s appearance at all, which meansthat the woman starts to feel the only way she can get a complimentis to fish for one, and the whole cycle just feeds on itself.
The solution to this problem is to be more direct about yourfeelings. If you’re not feeling especially attractive or sexy, thenexpress that to your partner. He might know just the right—andsincere—words to offer to make you know that you are loved.Also, when he does volunteer a compliment you appreciate, goahead and tell him so, and let him know he’s welcome to saythings like that anytime he likes. With a little encouragement,most guys will figure out that if something works they shouldkeep at it. We are, after all, very trainable, when we’re given positivereinforcements and rewards. Just like a puppy.
Compliments aren’t the only things women ask for indirectly.Unfortunately, men aren’t always that good at picking up onthose hints. If you want a guy to do something, be direct. Don’t be coy about it. Just say what you want him to do. Obviously itshouldn’t be delivered like an order or command in a game ofSimon says, but I’m not the only man I know who responds wellto the word help, as in, “Can you help me out next Monday? I’vegotta put my car in the shop and I need someone to give me aride to take care of a few things.”
Everybody likes to hear please and thank you; nobody likes tofeel taken for granted. Even if the two of you are married orengaged or have been datingfor years and years, you can stillask directly and ask nicely—and show your gratitude whenit’s been done. (Guys, that goesfor us, too.)
I think sometimes women make too much of this so-calledlanguage of men. I believe that a man who wants to be an activepartner in communication will be. If talking to your man feelslike pulling teeth, maybe you should give your relationship asecond look. See whether you’ve really developed a friendship. Iknow that men and women communicate in different ways, butwe all share an understanding of what it means to be considerateof our partners.
Talking to someone you care about shouldn’t seem like hardwork. If it does, then maybe he is trying, through his silence, totell you something. Yeah, I’ll admit it; men can fall back on beingpassive-aggressive sometimes, too.
Withdrawal can occur when a man is overwhelmed bymoney, work, stress, or other things that he is trying to work outbefore communicating with you. So, it’s not always a sign that aman is unhappy in the relationship when he turns inward. Whensomething is bothering a woman, she usually doesn’t hesitate to call a girlfriend to discuss her insecurities, issues, or problems.
But that’s not how the male brain works. Some guys just needto process on their own first. It’s got to be an extremely seriousproblem for me to call one of my boys and say, “Man, I needyour help. . . . I need to talk about something.”
Denise, a married friend, doesn’t agree, because her husbandis a great communicator. He will pull her aside and inform herthat he is distracted or feeling distant, explaining that it has nothingto do with her but with other things in his life that he istrying to process. She usually gives him a few days, but if he’s stillemotionally absent she’ll jokingly attempt to pull him out of this“funk.” Because he understands his wife and himself, he lets herknow as soon as he recognizes this shift. Occasionally she’ll bethe first to confront him on his pulling away. The point is, theyare able to have mature conversations about what’s going on. Shebelieves this is one of the key reasons she is still in love with herhusband after all these years.
Of course, withdrawal can also signal that a man wants out ofthe relationship. As far as the woman knows, she and her man are stillin a relationship, but in actuality he is long gone. The man resorts tosilence, hoping that the woman will get fed up and make the decisionto move on. That way he won’t be blamed or held responsiblefor disappointing her, for shattering her hopes and dreams. It’s difficult for a man to tell a woman he cares about that he doesn’t loveher anymore or that he does love her but not enough to remain ina relationship. At times, cowardly men just remain silent, and as Isaid before, I was one of those men.
Unfortunately, people respond to uncomfortable situationsin a way of their choosing, not ours. Just as we intuitively knowwhen someone is into us, we also intuitively know when someoneis not into us. If you’re willing to discuss the situation in order to stay together, but your partner is not interested in eventalking about it, that alone should tell you where he (or she)stands. No amount of rationalization or excuse making is goingto change what you already know deep down is true.
I’m not trying to place the burden of truth on the women’sshoulders. This book is about relationships, starting the conversationthat all men and women need to have and maintain in orderto survive the odds and overcome the obstacles. If you’re withsomeone who refuses to talk, the conversation is over. Period. It’sas simple as that.
The distance that was present when I finally reached out toNichole was created because I hadn’t honored our initial connection.During that first call, it was obvious that she was guarded, notas open and forthcoming as she’d been the evening we’d met. Andthat’s understandable. It was awkward, our conversation full of oddpauses and nervous chuckles. I ended the conversation by tellingher, “I’ll call you tomorrow.”
It took a whole lot of strength, though, for me to call her asecond time. I wanted the connection to come easily again, as ithad when we met. But I knew that I’d have to work for it. I’d haveto earn her trust, let her know that I was serious about gettingto know her. I’d so admired the vulnerability Nichole displayedwhen she’d asked, “Will you call?”
I realized I had to allow myself to be vulnerable, too. Nicholehad to be able to detect in me the same sincere vulnerabilitythat I’d detected in her. Had I not been ready to grow, I wouldhave resorted to rationalizations. I would have convinced myselfthat I’d done nothing wrong—After all, I would have told myself,I’d promised her that I’d call, and I did call; I never said when.
In fact, I almost started down that road. But when I did, I’dcatch myself and ask out loud, as I had that night, “Who do you think you’re fooling?” So I called Nichole that second time and Istarted the conversation by doing something I should have doneduring the first phone call; I apologized for letting so much timepass between the night we met and my call.
“I enjoy talking to you,” I said, “and I look forward to gettingto know you better.” It wasn’t a line; it was the truth—and that’swhat made it so difficult to say. I felt exposed. I ended each ofthose first few conversations by telling her when I’d call her again.And each time, I kept my word—because if people don’t respectyour time, it’s an indication that they don’t respect you. I wantedto lay a solid foundation for a possible relationship with Nichole.Eventually that easy, natural connection Nichole and I had returned,and our phone calls fell into their own natural rhythm.
While we’re on the topic of communication, I want to bringup technology. In this new, cool world of high-tech, low-touchcommunication, we have the ability to send messages to anyone,at any hour, using any one of a variety of media. Whether it’sTwitter or Facebook or e-mail or voice mail, we have no shortageof ways to talk. But are all these new advancements helpingor hurting our communication?
There was a time when the only way to interact with theobject of your affection was by being in the same room with himor her. When lovers were out of visiting range, they had to writeletters. Now technology has changed the game completely.When I have to quickly let a friend know that I am runninglate, I wonder how we ever got along before cell phones. Evenif I know the person I’m trying to reach can’t answer his or herphone, I can send a text.
The same technology that helps us to communicate can alsohurt the quality of that communication, especially in romanticrelationships. Many men don’t like to have confrontations with the women they’re dating. Is it any wonder, then, that so manyof my female friends tell me that it is becoming more and morecommon for men to use text messaging to back out of a date withthem, or even to break up with them? With text messages youcan get your point across without any lengthy or uncomfortableexplanations. It’s also easier to manipulate the truth. Many of mymale friends write things in text messages that they would neverhave the courage to say if they were looking the woman in theeye. And what’s worse, many of my female friends allow men toget away with this type of “conversation.”
We can also use the technology as a diversion. For instance,I am not proud to admit that I have sent the text “What are youup to?” to someone I was dating when I knew I didn’t want totalk to her for the rest of the day but I wanted her to think I waschecking on her. Not good.
Even if couples use technology to manage time and findways to be more effective and efficient, it is still important to beaware of the ways in which we communicate with each other. Unlesswe’re careful, relationshipshave the tendency to resemblebusiness negotiations: We’redealing with our individualschedules, our kids’ schedules,family dramas, financial decisions,social obligations, work and/or school commitments, professionaldeadlines. Those details can be all-consuming, and before weknow it, all that other stuff has taken over the relationship.
Modern technology can expedite working out all of thosedetails, but it can also make us feel as though we’ve had our fillof communicating with our significant other. By the time youtwo are actually face-to-face, in the same space, you’re all talked out, even though you haven’t really said anything. Before youknow it, a relationship can be absent of any true and consistentpersonal connection.
You might think that sounds extreme, but it’s very possible. I’deven say it’s common. These high-tech methods of communicationcan sometimes cause a lot of confusion in relationships. Thereis no eye contact; there is no body language; there are no facialexpressions. The nuances that come from tone and voice, and thevisual cues we use to understand the significance of whatever isbeing said in person, are completely lost.
If you’re face-to-face when a misunderstanding begins, youhave the ability to say “Stop! That’s not what I meant,” and tocorrect whatever has been misunderstood. In person, we have areal-time awareness of when things are going right and whenthings are going wrong. The problem with “flat” mediums liketexting, e-mailing, and instant messaging is that sarcasm soundsmean and jokes may sound dismissive when you don’t have theintonation that makes them make sense. Statements meant ashints can sound like nagging or have no force at all. There arejust too many ways for it to all go very, very wrong, very, veryquickly.
I’m not saying that if a person e-mails or texts I love you tohis or her partner, the person doesn’t mean it. Plenty of couplesfind inventive and positive ways to use technology to enhancetheir personal communication and, thus, their relationship. Butrelationships are made in person. Communication is strengthenedby looking into a partner’s eyes, by holding hands whileconversing, and by having the courage to say what’s going on inour hearts, minds, and souls.
Just as we need to step up with our actions, we need tospeak up with our emotions. We can’t hide behind the ease of technology, the excuse of gender tendencies, or the history ofour own bad habits. If we want to be with someone, we needto learn how to communicate—how to have our say, how to letsomeone else have his or her say, and, most important, how tofind common ground.
Introduction: The Crisis of Our Shared Destiny xiii
Part 1 The Conversation Begins
1 Man in the Mirror 3
2 What We Say, Mean, and Do 15
Letters from Don and Robin 23
3 He Say/She Say: Who's to Blame 32
4 What Brothers Want 42
Men Speak I 52
5 What Sisters Want 62
Sisters' Soiree Chat I 65
Part 2 Mr. and Mrs. Butta Worth
6 Will Mr. Right Please Stand Up? 75
7 The Language of Men 82
Fishing for Compliments 86
Dropping Hints 87
8 Checking Baggage: The Lightness of Being 95
9 Status vs. Potential: Looking at the Obamas 102
Part 3 Trying Not to Sleep in the Bed You Made
10 Commit-Men-t 111
Men Speak II 114
11 Eros vs. Sex/Lust vs. Love 119
Premarital Sex 127
Sexual Experimentation and Compatibility 131
12 Cheating: Reindeer Games 136
Men Speak III 145
13 Complicating Matters 149
Dating a Divorcé 150
Dating with Kids 152
14 Going, Going, Gone: Crossing the Color Line 158
Sisters' Soiree Chat II 166
Men Speak IV 175
Part 4 Pulling Up the Roots
15 E-Race-ing the Rules 181
16 Mad Money 188
17 Anger, Forgiveness, and Learning to Let Go 196
Men Speak V: Marriage from a Man's Perspective 202
Part 5 The Way Forward
18 The Conversation Party 211
The Morning-After Debriefing 234
19 Man Up! 236
20 Three to Be Free 246
Addendum: Conversation Questions 260
Posted January 19, 2011
I enjoyed this book in its entirety! He is by NO MEANS a relationship expert, but he does offer thoughts (not suggestions) for being more open to having effective conversation. As a teacher, I often see that our children are not being taught basic social skills-communication. These children often will display inappropriate emotions and actions that are socially unacceptable. I had a senior in high school cry because someone moved her backpack across the room as a joke (this is only an example). These children often grow into adults with poor communication skills. And guess what ladies? We get to date these men (and vice versa for the men). Could you imagine dating a woman like this?
The book almost gives you (me) confidence to ask questions that are on your mind and be open to responses from your partner. And I don't just mean intimate partnerships, I would include family and friends as well. This was the first book that I purchased for my Nook (my new boyfriend) and I could not put it down. I read the book over Christmas Break. I would often lean over to my boyfriend (the real one) and just ask a question and actually get a thoughtful response.
The approach is the key when dealing with intimate relationships. For example: women are often light hearted when having any type of conversation with their friends-but when they have a conversation with their partner they approach it as a boring dull process. Why not, try just communicating in the same light hearted way with your partner? Don't make it mundane, confrontational, boring, meaningless, etc. Just, "hey, what do you think about.?" See how it goes. The book was great! At the end of the book he also offers "conversation questions" for a party-plan to do that this summer with some lively folk!
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Posted October 10, 2009
This book placed me in an optimistically cheerful mood. It was tremendously insightful. Most relationship books speak to one gender. This book spoke to both. Despite being written by a man; the book's point of view was balanced. It didn't have a masculine slant. Both men and women can appreciate this book. Every page was packed with theories, ideas, comments and thoughts that help conceptualize feelings about the opposite sex, marriage, family, and love. It was also clever of Harper to weave a tender love story in the fabric of the pages.
I loved the Conversation.
1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 19, 2013
Posted November 21, 2012
I am a little late reading this book as I have been out of the loop when it comes to relationship books. Lets just say I lost faith in real-ationships....but this is just what I needed. An open, honest book about what we truly feel and need to discuss in relationships. I have to say that coming from an African American male, this book has the capability to touch the hearts of other races if they have an ear to hear. This is much needed in the black community and I have to say that it has caused me to change my perception of who I may entertain as company in my life in the future. Bravo and thanks to Hill Harper for opening his life and heart to us in a book that would make a great movie!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 18, 2012
I thought this book was honest, and enlightening. It definately made me open my eyes to some of my current and past situations and really think. I would definately recommend this book, nomatter what your race.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 12, 2012
Posted May 10, 2012
The title of this book is self explanatory and its true. Please start the conversation amongst yourselves about the personal relationships that you have. Discuss where you see it going. The author lets you into his own personal relationship with Nicholle. I think that is a good way of starting it. And then he also has questions that I actually answered some of them. I didn't post them but I wanted too. Those questions help you see where you might be already in that conversation or where you may want to go. I think we all could use some of what he says in there as just truth and a barometer of the truth.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 8, 2011
Posted November 17, 2011
I have not yet read this book. But I am excited to read it. So far I have not seen one negative comment. Which increases my curiousity. I like the way Hill communicates his thoughts. The lauguage he uses is easy to follow and understood. He also has a knack for chosing applicable topics.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 15, 2011
Although Hill Harper doesn't say anything we do not already know it was still a good read. It was great to see how all his different friends reacted to his questions. I also learned some morenthings about myself and to me that was worth the read.
Posted July 17, 2011
Posted July 5, 2011
This book was very insightful. I now have a more positive outlook on my abililty to ignite the conversation with both men and women. I understand from a broader perspective and this book also reminded me of the power of ones words....thanks Hill.....Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 12, 2011
I really enjoyed this book. It offered wonderful chapters that opened the door for discussions with my husband and friends. I appreciate Mr. Harper for taking the time to write such an amazing book.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 29, 2011
I just finished reading this book and I feel so enlightened about my new relationship. I completely understand black men and can relate to how my sisters and I play a role in building a positive relationship. This is a must read and I am planning my own Conversation Party!
Great job HIll!!!!
In Love and Happy Forever
Posted December 3, 2010
I am in a interracial marriage and although this book is geared towards African-American marriages and relationship I believe that it fits for all backgrounds.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 4, 2010
When I first started reading this book I didn't know to think about it. But I continued to read and was surprise at how this story was wrote by the author to help relationships across the board. It didn't just look at relationships from one side (meaning just from the males view or the females view). It give information from both sides which was helpful and easy to understand. Another great thing I love about this book was that it wasn't trying to point out what your partner isn't doing for you but it makes you think about yourself and how you as a person can better your relationship and work with your partner as well. I would recommend this book to couples who are really trying to make their relationship work. I started reading the book first, now my partner has started reading the book as well and it has been very helpful to our communication skills together. So couples come to the table with an open mind and watch how things change in your relationship just by a new level of communication.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 27, 2010
This book was and excellant read. I really appreciate how Hill Harper takes the information that he learned through his research of Black men and woman and their wants and needs and put it all together as a guide to keeping us together. I do believe that the glue that once held our black relationships together is no longer sticking because of the contents in which it is made now-a-days. We have tried to perfect what was already perfect;by changing ingredients like support, confidence, love (real Love) hearing( not just listening) to each other. Let's go back to the original recipe black people! We will be a much happier, less stressful people. Let's not forget what a joy it would be for our children to say that mommy and daddy brought me to school today; and my whole family had dinner lastnight together.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 18, 2010
Posted February 4, 2010
I bought this book a few weeks ago via Ebooks and it didnt take me along time to finish it! Hill Harper bought a few things that I didnt know about men and women to my attention. I would recommend all people read this book, married, single, divorced, etc. It will be an eye opener. He had some questions at the end of the text that are very important in building relationships!!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 18, 2010
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