We have reached the final chapter of Deborah Tannen’s book, Talking from 9 to 5, “Who Gets Heard: Talking at Meetings.” This wraps up this Summer’s Online Book Club!
Office meetings are a vital aspect of the workplace; they provide coworkers, supervisors, and executives the chance to share innovative ideas, divide leadership, and work through any issues. Everyone has something to offer in their position at these meetings regardless of their sex, yet, according to Tannen, women hold back. What causes this?
“Boys and girls, and women and men, have quite similar individual abilities, but they tend to have somewhat different characteristic styles of interacting, and these style differences often put females at a disadvantage in interaction with men” (286).
We have all heard the phrase: “it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.” Women frequently preface their statements with disclaimers that lessen the impact of their statements and even tend to speak at lower volumes or higher pitches than men. Credit for ideas – even those proposed by women – is thus often accrued to men. These habits begin at a young age. According to Tannen, girls are frequently bystanders in coed classrooms, while the boys are more vocal and tend to take charge. There are, however, ways for women to overcome their natural tendencies and excel in these situations.
“They may practice speaking louder and at greater length, resisting the impulse to let their intonation rise at the end—an intonational pattern often used by women to show considerateness and invite response, but often interpreted as a sign of uncertainty and insecurity” (288).
Even silence, Tannen argues, can be a helpful attribute in a meeting or conference situation, especially if it is one’s natural tendency. Silence allows one to think critically about what is being presented and offer practical, relevant suggestions and solutions. Women may cultivate different habits than men in the workplace, but never are they at an inherent disadvantage. It is up to women to practice prudence and tactful speaking so they may succeed in workplace discourse, regardless of the gender makeup of the room.
1) How can women feel more comfortable speaking in groups and meetings?
2) Will you alter your conversational style in classes after reading this chapter?
3) Do you think there is an inherent difference between the way men and women handle workplace discourse? Are women actually disadvantaged by this?
Up next on the Online Book Club is Katie Pavlich’s Assault and Flattery!