An Indepth Analysis of Gender-Based Conversational Styles [Rough Draft]

David Wentworth AP English C Period Mrs. Baer An In depth Analysis of Gender-Based Conversational Styles Introduction and Context Men and women have two entirely different conversational styles. That is why conflict between genders is so extremely common during communication. Many times, both the man and the woman are left feeling hurt, misunderstood, and unsure why the other is acting rudely. In You Just Don’t Understand: Men and Women in Conversation, Deborah Tannen argues even further about the differences between the backgrounds of men and women. If women speak and hear a language of connection and intimacy, while men speak and hear a language of status and independence, then communication between men and women can be like cross-cultural communication, prey to a clash of conversational styles.

” (Tannen – You Just Don’t Understand 42) Tannen’s main point is that men and women are focused on gaining different things when they interact with people. Women are focused on relationships and building friendships. They desire fairness and want everyone to feel equal. They generally try to create community with those whom they interact.

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Tannen says that women try to avoid differences and emphasize similarities in order to strengthen relationships.

While women tend to focus on closeness and intimacy, men, on the other hand, focus on autonomy and respect. They view the world as a hierarchy, and in every conversation they are either one-up or one-down. In every conversation, there is a goal to be accomplished. Men and women tend to demonstrate two different goals when they Converse. That is where much of the problem arises in cross-gender interactions.

Men tend to have conversations and use them in a way to gain status or power.

Women, on the other hand, use their conversations to establish connections with others. Unfortunately, when talking about gender differences, people will either imply that the man is different or that the woman is different. This causes problems because it is stating that one of the genders is a normal standard, while the other one is deviating from that standard. “And it is only a short step – maybe an inevitable one – from ‘different’ to ‘worse. ‘” (Tannen – You Just Don’t Understand 15) So, when talking to a person of the opposite sex, one’s goal should be to understand that the other person’s style is “different but equally valid.

(Tannen – You Just Don’t Understand 15)

This will alleviate most of the conflicts and misunderstandings which arise when people of the opposite sex communicate with each other. The Author’s Background Deborah Tannen is a professor of linguistics at Georgetown University and is a widely known scholar. She is internationally recognized due to her frequent lectures all around the world. She has received several grants from foundations such as the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the National Science Foundation. Tannen – You Just Don’t Understand book jacket) She has made all of her work public through articles and magazines and has made television appearances.

She is a very credible source as she has been working on linguistics and researching the topic of cross-gender interaction for many years. Many times, men hear a woman commenting about gender differences in conversation, and are immediately on the defensive. When a woman, such as Tannen, discusses this topic, men may view this as an accusation. Since Deborah Tannen is a woman, one would think she may be biased towards a woman’s point of view.

This, however, is quite far from the truth.

She does an excellent job of not taking a side throughout the book. She keeps an objective attitude towards the subject and does not let any type of bias surface in her arguments. Many critics say that Tannen’s outlook on this topic is too focused on men and women having different but equal conversational styles. Marie Shear, a well known author and editor, states that Tannen’s book “minimizes the impact of bias upon our common language. ” (Shear) Shear says that Tannen overlooks the main problem: gender bias.

In an interview, Tannen addressed this by saying, “people get quite frustrated with me for not saying one is better than the other.

A good style is the one that works in the context you’re using it in, and a bad style is one that doesn’t work in that context. ” (Stepp) The unbiased approach to the topic, however, is a positive aspect. It prevents placing any blame on either gender and it strengthens her point. Also, it keeps her writing as more informative rather than persuasive, and this increases her credibility. The Book’s Argument

In many instances, men and women can walk away from the same conversations with completely different understandings and impressions of what was just said.

This is because men and women have fundamental differences in conversational style. This book seeks to identify and assist one in recognizing key differences in gender conversational style. Once people understand the reasons that members of the opposite sex behave and converse the way they do, they can adapt and take this into account before they jump to conclusions and cause conflict. If we can sort out differences based on conversational style, we will be in a better position to confront real conflicts of interest – and to find a shared language in which to negotiate them. ” (Tannen – You Just Don’t Understand 18) One of the most important ideas that is essential to understanding Tannen’s argument is that of metamessages. A metamessage is, in essence, the implied meaning of the actual spoken words.

The metamessage is a key component of why misunderstandings can occur. Men tend to view metamessages as asymmetrical. This means that, when speaking with someone, they feel as if the other speaker is trying to one-up them.

Women, on the other hand, view metamessages as symmetrical. This means they feel like the other speaker is on the same level as they are and attempting to make a connection.

For example, if someone were to offer a woman help, she would pick up a metamessage of something like, “I care about your needs. ” For a man, however, “the fact of being offered help may seem to send the metamessage ‘I am more competent than you. ‘” (Tannen – You Just Don’t Understand 32). Another significant point is the role of intimacy and independence in women and men. “Intimacy is key in a world of connection..

. n a world of status, independence is key….

all humans need both. ” (Tannen You Just Don’t Understand 26) Women do tend to put more focus on intimacy because they view the world through the scope of connection.

Men see the world as one big hierarchy, so they focus much more on independence. Due to these key differences, conflict between the genders seems to be inevitable. Conflict seems be the “universal” outcome of all these significant conversational differences. This outcome, however, is even different between the genders.

Men and women have opposing views and tendencies when it comes to having problems. To most women, conflict is a threat to connection, to be avoided at all costs. Disputes are preferably settled without direct confrontation. But to many men, conflict is the necessary means by which status is negotiated, so it is to be accepted and may even be sought, embraced, and enjoyed. ” (Tannen – You Just Don’t Understand 150) When it comes to conflict, men and women can both benefit from being flexible and making an attempt to understand and accept the other’s style. Many people in today’s society have biased views on genders.

One common bias is that women are more talkative than men.

Who really talks more, women or men? To answer this question, one must take into account the difference between public and private speaking. (Tannen You Just Don’t Understand 76) Often times, men are more comfortable doing public speaking, while women feel more comfortable doing private speaking. Many times for men, being at home and the comfort that comes with this, means that they do not have to prove themselves through verbal displays. For women, on the other hand, home means being free from judgment and having the ability to say what they want. Green 8) Outside the home though, in public atmospheres, men become the “talkers” and women tend to be quieter due to the worry of being judged.

Tannen calls these different types of conversation “rapport-talk and report-talk. ” Women use a language of rapport in which they attempt to establish connections and relationships with others. Men, though, speak a language of report. They use conversations to gain attention, preserve independence, and jockey for status in a hierarchical world. (Tannen – You Just Don’t Understand 77) These differences are so significant because they are ingrained in people as children.

Even if a brother and sister are raised in the same household and under the same conditions, they will develop fundamental differences in the way that they talk and interact with people. From early childhood, boys use conversation as a way to gain and keep other’s attention. In Tannen’s research, she consistently found that the conversations of young boys were characterized by jokes and boys attempting to outdo each other in conversation. She also found that young boys were much more likely to play competitive games when together rather than talk.

This is where the male affinity for public and competitive conversation is developed.

Young girls, however, were much more likely to sit down and have long, serious conversations. They played less games. When they did play games, they would play noncompetitive games that did not have winners such as “house. ” This is where the female quality of “rapport-talk” originates, in the connection-establishing relationships of their childhoods. (Tannen – You Just Don’t Understand) It is important to realize that a person’s conversational style plays an integral role in their development since they were a young child.

Analyzing a person’s background and conversational style can help during cross-gender conflicts. The differences between men and women are widely known. It is a universal topic. Because it is also such a controversial topic, many cartoons and other forms of media have chosen to use this theme. This is seen in a specific cartoon in Clangnuts Cartoon Blog.

In this comic, a woman tells her husband about an extensive study on men and women that revealed that women actually say 70% more words than men. To which the man replies, “Really? ” (Clangnuts) This truly exemplifies how society views women as being very talkative.

This coincides with Tannen’s studies perfectly. In the comic, the couple are sitting down in their living room. This setting can be seen as a private speaking situation, so one would expect the woman to dominate the conversation. Clearly, there are many differences between the conversational styles of men and women.

Tannen does an excellent job of conveying this to the reader. She demonstrates that women and men come from quite literally “two different worlds. ” It is critical to understand where men and women come from and to realize how that relates to any conversation. Opposing Points of View

Alice Freed is a professor of linguistics at Montclair State College. She has major complaints regarding Tannen’s book. Freed states that it “simultaneously perpetuates negative stereotypes of women, excuses men their interactive failings, and distorts by omission the accumulated knowledge of our discipline.

” (Freed) Freed’s first complaint is that Tannen does not discredit the negative stereotypes of women in modern society. She believes that Tannen portrays women as indirect and indecisive. This is not true at all. Tannen says that women and men focus on different aspects of conversation and conversational motives.

Due to women’s focus on intimacy and connection, sometimes their style leads them to sound indirect. Tannen makes it very clear that this is a result of their style and not a negative stereotype.

Next, Freed believes that men discriminate against women and that Tannen specifically avoided this in her book. An important aspect that Freed is overlooking in this criticism is that Tannen’s goal was to provide an unbiased analysis of gender-based conversational styles. This would force her to exclude the topic of existing social biases. Lastly, Freed accuses Tannen of distorting the previously known research on the topic by omitting it.

This is also an unfair complaint because it would have been impossible for her to include all previously done research in her one book.

Also, Tannen did include a large amount of research and studies done by contemporaries. Freed’s critique does present some valid criticisms, but is overall unfair and unrealistic. Marie Shear criticizes Tannen for seeming to excuse men for any discriminatory behaviors. She accuses Tannen’s book of merely providing an excuse for exploitive men. Shear does not think that the problem is different conversational styles.

She says the problem is rooted in hostility towards women.

Shear, in her critique, strays away from being constructive at all. At one point, her criticisms even become blatantly destructive as she calls Tannen a “female chauvinist sow. ” (Shear) There are many different theories about the roots of the conversational conflicts between men and women. The criticisms on Tannen’s book, however, have little to do with her actual theories.

As shown in these criticisms by Shear and Freed, they focus on small, insignificant points in the book and fail to understand the main argument. Conclusion In conversing with a person of the opposite sex, conflict can sometimes arise immediately.

Many people do not understand why their partner acts a certain way. Many times, they even put the blame on the other person for not understanding them. Sometimes they feel like either they must change, or the other person must change. This is a common problem, and it can all be avoided if one takes into account the different conversational styles of men and women.

Once one learns to understand the different conversational styles of men and women and accepts them, relationships with loved ones can be enhanced and disagreements can be resolved easily. Also, contrary to what many believe, change is not the answer.

Changing your unique conversational style is practically changing who you are. (Green) The key is to learn about other conversational styles. Your styles do not necessarily have to be identical. If you try to understand and empathize with the other person’s style, then you will be much more successful in your social interactions.

Works Cited Clangnuts Cartoon Blog. “Men of Few Words” http://clangnuts. blogspot. com/ Freed, Alice F. “We Understand Perfectly: A Critique of Tannen’s View of Cross-sex Communication” (1992) Green, Doug, .

“You Just Don’t Understand Analysis. http://www. drdouggreen. com/. N.

p. , 2010. Web. 24 Apr 2012. <http://www.

drdouggreen. com/2010/you-just-dont-understand-book-summary/>. Shear, Marie. “Media Watch: You Don’t Quite Understand. ” New Directions for Women 20. 5 (Sept.

-Oct. 1991): 11. Rpt. in Contemporary Literary Stepp, Gina. “Communicating With Style. ” Vision.

org. 2009: n. page. 0. <http://www. vision.

org/visionmedia/interview-with-deborah-tannen/13052. asp&xgt;. Tannen, Deborah. “You Just Don’t Understand: Men and Women in Conversation. ” New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc.

, 1990.