What communication values do men and women hold in their same-sex/cross-sex relationships?

By Guest Author Shea ChappelMale and female friends walking to beach

In the film “When Harry Met Sally,” Billy Crystal states that, “Men and women can’t be friends.” However, our own life experience tells us that this is not the case. Men and women are friends, and in a recent article Holmstrom seeks to understand more about these friendships and the communication men and women look for in both types of friendships, same-sex and cross-sex.

For this study, Holstrom surveyed 292 Midwestern students of varying races. She attempted to understand the relationship between the following:
·         –Same-sex friendships: friendships between people of the same gender
·         –Cross-sex friendships: friendships between people of different genders
·         –Affectively oriented communication: examples of this are comforting and listening skills. According to previous research, these skills are usually more valued by women and social science studies indicate that women are socialized to hold these skills.
·         –Instrumentally oriented communication: examples of this are persuasion and narrative skills. Previous research indicates that these skills tend to be more valued by men and that men are socialized to hold this set of skills.

Overall, Holstrom made a few interesting points in her study that tended to build on and support previous research of friendship communication. Her first finding indicates that both men and women rate affective communication skills in both cross-sex and same-sex friendships as more important than instrumental skills. However, the importance each group placed on affective skills differed, with women rating these skills higher than men. Third, Holstrom’s study indicates that gender of the friend may have an influence on communication values. The study showed that the participants rated affective communication skills as more important for female friends than male friends. Women in this study were also found to rate instrumentally oriented skills as more important in their male friends than in their female friends, but it should be reminded that overall, both men and women placed more value on affectively oriented communication across all of their friendships.

The most important thing I take away from this study is that in both same-sex and cross-sex friendships, affectively oriented communication is more highly valued by both men and women than instrumentally oriented communication. It is important to remember that in maintaining both types of friendships, one should make sure to employ affectively oriented communication.  It is interesting that both men and women value this type communication, even though both groups tend to be socialized into one or the other.  Previous research indicates that women tend to find same-sex relationships more rewarding than cross-sex friendships, and perhaps this is because females tend to get affective communication more from their fellow female friends than their male friends.
It is also notable that women looked to their male friends for instrumentally oriented skills and that both groups looked to their female friends for affectively oriented communication. I think this shows the importance of both types of friendships.

Overall, I think that it is important to keep in mind that people get different things out of cross-sex and same-sex friendships, but that each group looks for affectively oriented communication in all of their friendships.

Holmstrom, A. J. (2009). Sex and gender similarities and differences in communication values in same-sex and cross-sex friendships. Communication Quarterly, 57, 224-238.