Men and women view perceptions of hierarchy differently. While men are more status oriented, women tend to be relationship oriented. Because of this, women focus on developing strong relationships with co-workers, bosses, and subordinates so that if issues arise, she can reach out to the person necessary and solve the problem effectively. Meanwhile, men focus on the status of a person as incentive to accomplish a task well.
However, Tannen makes it clear that these different perceptions of authority can coincide. She states:
“Hierarchies and alliances, status and connection, are intertwined and inextricable. In trying to understand the dynamics of interaction, we must see these two forces and inseparable, each one implying the other” (213).
Women are interpreted as more approachable because of their relationship building focus, however, they must be cautious this does not undermine their authority. Tannen evaluates the significance of addressing someone in a formal manner—it can imply superiority, respect, or lack of closeness. Additionally, if one person is addressed formally, while the other is addressed casually, this implies that one is superior to the other.
Based on this information, women tend to be addressed by their first names more often than men, even in leadership positions. While some women perceive this as a lack of respect, Tannen believes this is rooted in the relationship emphasis women have with those at work.
Additionally, Tannen shares the cultural differences that exist concerning status and hierarchy. In American culture, hierarchy is typically seen negatively, even though it exists. Tannen observes that in work environments, American’s believe closeness is distancing as she states:
“Americans tend to assume that hierarchy precludes closeness, so employers and employees cannot “really” be friends, and if they do become friends, complications arise that must be worked out” (214).
While Americans tend to view themselves as individuals working in a group, Tannen observes that Japanese culture promotes a unity within a hierarchical structure. Similar to a family, the hierarchy bonds the group together once everyone understands their place.
Likewise, Tannen examines the different cultural conversational differences. She asserts:
“Pacing and pausing is an element of conversation that differs greatly depending on regional, cultural, and subcultural background” (235).
Tannen uses the example of a British executive and his interaction at his American office. Although dominating conversation can be seen as a symbol of authority, his silence marked his power since his subordinates were unsure what he was thinking.
Tannen concludes that a variety of these conversational habits are valid. True intentions are not always evident through just words and actions are important to consider as well.
1) Why do you think women value relationships with others in the workplace more than men?
2) How can building relationships with professors or bosses in your life improve your overall success?
3) What cultural implications are seen through American’s individualistic preferences?