I’m in the words business, so I get excited when a word enters our vernacular that describes or captures, in meaning and sound, a new phenomenon or trend. Mansplaining, officially recognized by Merriam-Webster recently, is one of those words.
The problem with mansplaining — besides the fact that, let’s be honest, most men are guilty of — is that the word underrepresents the breadth of explaining men do.
So I decided to conduct a little communications audit of myself.
I started by paying attention to my verbal behavior at home. Am I mansplaining to my wife?
Anyone with a spouse and/or teenagers knows that they have no interest in any wisdom that you may think you have to offer. But of course, I do it anyway.
Sample communication to my wife: The algorithms of your (frankly know-it-all) driving directions app are no match for my dead reckoning. My success rate in getting her to agree: Zero. The chance that she tunes me out altogether in the car: 100 percent. The likelihood that she is saving our marriage by tuning me out in the car: 100 percent. Do I give up? Of course not. After another decade of my yapping at her in the car, she might hear me!
My efforts to enlighten my kids are similarly ineffective. Not only don’t they listen to anything I say (unless it involves saying yes to something they want), but it usually sends them in the other direction.
Sample communication to my kids: It would be more effective — and easier! — if you didn’t leave a weekend’s worth of homework until 8 p.m. Sunday. The following weekend, they start at 10 p.m. I’m not the boss of them, you see. Do I stop helicoptering and either trust them to find their way or let them fail? Why would I do that? Nagging them makes me feel like I’m parenting. Plus, nag number 100 could be the magic!
I also talk to my dog, although he doesn’t appear to understand human. The tilt of his head and the puzzled look on his face when I’m explaining something to him are the give-away. Do I stop? Of course not. Secretly, I think he may understand every word I’m saying.
Crazy dog owner-splaining: Guilty.
I have also been considering my verbal behavior at work. As the head of a public relations company, I spend a fair amount of time providing advice, which is often to shorten and simplify communications. But like most consultants, I occasionally fall in love with the sound of my own voice. To my clients: Less is more. To myself: More is more!
In all of my verbal interactions, I strive to listen more than talk. The beautiful secret about listening is that it makes you a better communicator. And it’s pretty much a requisite for mature, adult conversation. Is there a new term for my intercoursal aspiration? Empathetic-listening is taken (by the therapists). How about Loquaciousness-avoiding? Maybe a little too oxymoronic. But good advice nonetheless, if I do say so myself.
Raymond P. Howell is president of Howell Communications.