Gender Miscommunication

There is an article about a recent study on how men were found commonly to perceive more sexual intent in women’s behaviour than women are intending to convey. This study is from Indiana University’s Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. However, the study also shows that men were quite likely to misperceive sexual interest as friendliness. After reading it, all I can say that it is a sexist piece of crap.

Aside from the many flaws in the research methodology, it is patently clear that the conclusions drawn are one sided and designed to provoke discourse. As any student of real communication knows, communication is a two way process based on an agreed protocol. If either party does not communicate correctly, or if they were using different protocols, error free communications is impossible. Even when both parties communicate correctly with the same protocol, there is still a finite probability of error and therefore, error correction mechanisms need to be built into the communication system.

In a typical communications system, a message is first encapsulated with some extra information in order to identify the target of the message and also some error checking information. Then, the message is transformed into a signal for transmission, which is transmitted through a suitable medium, either wired or wireless. The signal may even be routed through several intermediate devices before reaching the intended target. When the receiver receives the signal, it will convert it from the transmission form into a readable form and extract the message. Afterwards, it will check this message against the extra information to see if it was the intended target and if the message was error free. Finally, the receiver would send another message back in the opposite direction, in order to acknowledge receipt of the message. That’s how all communication systems work in this world.

There are so many potential places for errors to happen between the transmission and reception of the message. The transmitter may foul things up when converting the intended message into a transmissible form. The medium of transmission can introduce noise and cross-talk into the system, which may garble up the message. The receiver may also foul things up when converting between the received signal and the intended message. Whether or not the intended message was correct, in the first place, is also questionable.

When a garbled message is received, there are error correction mechanisms to handle the problem. But in order for the mechanisms to work, both transmitter and receiver would have to agree on the same algorithm to use. Otherwise, even this correction would fail thoroughly and garble up the message even further. And the trouble with human communication is that, both genders use very different error handling mechanisms. Males tend to be encouraged by ambiguous intentions while females tend to err on the side of caution.

In the event of a communication breakdown, the first thing that an engineer will need to do is to ensure that both transmitter and receiver are using the same communication protocol. Then, the engineer would have to check to ensure that the transmitter is working and sending the intended message correctly. Finally, the receiver would need to be checked to ensure that it is still receiving the same message transmitted and is extracting the intended message from the transmitter. The path of the message has to be traced from the source to the destination.

The trouble with human communication is that the protocol is highly flawed. Human languages have too many nuances and meanings associated with each word and phrase that it is never entirely possible to understand the exact meaning of a statement. Non-verbal communications are even worse. Nobody really knows when a smile is more than a smile or otherwise. When such a problem happens in a communication system, both transmitter and receiver will need to fall back onto the lowest common denominator, a simple protocol that both sides can understand clearly.

Therefore, it is rather unfair to place judgement that the receivers are clueless. It is just as likely that the transmitters are clueless too. But the best thing to do in such cases, is just to fall back to the lowest common denominator, to clear the air, so to speak. However, I’m very sure that many other people will disagree with me on this. Some people insist on doing all the dancing around. Well, I’m sure that none of these people are communication engineers. d:

Published by

Shawn Tan

Chip Doctor, Chartered/Professional Engineer, Entrepreneur, Law Graduate.

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