You Just Don’t Understand - Women and Men in Conversation by Deborah Tannen,
Ph.D Ballantine Books, New York 1990
Submitted by Rachael Orbach
This book’s premise is that the reason the women and men don’t get along with each
other is because they live in different verbal worlds. Each gender has specific ways of
talking and getting what is needed.
When two men talk, they talk about facts, figures and not much about feelings. They
are always looking for markers that tell them whether they are higher or lower in the
hierarchy. If a man realizes that he is being put down, then he will defend himself even
to the point of offending the other man. Now, the surprising thing is that even after a
long drawn out argument, the two men might become friends.
On the other hand, women, when they talk to each other are not looking for status, but
for connections. How can the woman connect to the other woman? If they are talking
about troubles, for instance about mothers-in-laws, then one will say something about her
mother-in-law, so the other woman will agree with her and add a detail about her own
mother-in-law. They strive to be friends by being similar.
The trouble between the sexes is when men and women talk to each other. Each lives
in a different cultural world so has a different dialect, or “genderlect.” A woman will
ask her husband if he wants to go out to dinner and expects him to answer: “Yes, would
you like to go out to dinner?” When he doesn’t she feel slighted. An argument might
ensue, nobody really understanding the real reason why. Women usually adapt to
the conversation patterns of men in mixed groups, but men usually don’t adapt to the
conversation patterns of women.
Then she goes on to examine boys and girls, and lo and behold, the same patterns
emerge. Two boys when asked to speak alone for 20 minutes in front of a camera, talk
about facts, they don’t look at each other, they fool around and they don’t really make
connections, sometimes talking at the same time.
Girls, however when asked to talk for 20 minutes, speak in the same patterns as grown
up women. What is mindboggling, is that even girls as young as 3 years old, engage in
similar conversation patterns.!!!
What is to be done? Well Dr. Tannen suggests that everybody learn more conversational
styles and the ability to use them often.