You'd think after 15 years in the mostly male HVAC industry and almost 18 years of marriage, I would be able to communicate successfully with members of the opposite sex. I think for the most part, the communications go well, but every now and then, something happens that makes me realize how carefully I need to choose my words when talking with men.

The latest epiphany came when I was trying to obtain some information from a male colleague. I had just asked a general question, and the response I received was a terse e-mail that basically stated, "You should already have that information."

I realized the mistake was mine at once: I was not nearly specific enough. My general question would have most likely been fine for a female colleague, who would be able to read between the lines to ascertain the information I needed. Or if she didn't know what I wanted, it's likely she would've asked more questions.

I see the same scenario often played out in my own home. For instance, I'll ask my son to pick up his shoes by the back door, and he'll do just that: He'll pick up his own shoes, because that's what I asked him to do. If I ask my daughter to pick up her shoes, she not only picks up hers, she picks up everyone else's and puts them away. She reads between the lines to figure out what I would like to get done.


My husband, bless his soul, discovered long ago that he needs to clarify exactly what I'm asking him to do. He learned this lesson the hard way after we were preparing for a dinner party a number of years ago. He asked what I wanted him to do, and I said the backyard needed to be cleaned up. So what did he do? He cleaned out the shed. In my mind, I thought he'd pick up after the dogs, put away the kids' toys, pull a few weeds - you know, do things that would actually help the appearance of our yard.

I was fuming, but I eventually realized it was not all his fault: He was genuinely trying to be helpful, and I had not been specific enough. As a result of that day long ago, I try to be more careful about clearly stating what I would like my husband to do: Please clean the bathrooms, using the green cleanser that's on the shelf in the utility room, and don't forget to scrub the bathtub while you're in there.

Sharon Roberts has noted time and again in the pages of The NEWS that men and women communicate differently, and she is so right. I had the pleasure of hearing Roberts speak several years ago at a seminar, and she repeatedly stressed that men and women are different in the way they communicate, react, socialize, shop, and make decisions. She added that contractors need to recognize those differences if they want to sell service or product to female customers.

Which is why I definitely sympathize with contractors. Not only do they need to know how to address men and women separately, they have to combine communication styles when talking with husbands and wives together. It's hard enough to do this in social situations, but when a sale is on the line, the pressure only increases. Maybe that's why so many contractors I know keep a bottle of Tums nearby.

Joanna Turpin, Contributing Editor, 480-726-7121,

Publication date: 07/10/2006