Unnecessary apologies in social settings are conversational rituals intended to solve misunderstandings. However, needlessly admitting a fault in which the blame is not equally shared can place one party in a subordinate position. The intent of ritual apologies is for both parties to accept responsibility and likewise, save face together.
When an individual habitually apologizes in conversations, it creates a negative impression upon others. The speaker appears to be insecure and lack confidence. Similarly, ritual thanks are often expressed and require mutuality to maintain an equal balance between speakers. Tannen evaluates:
“All these rituals depend on mutuality. If one person apologizes and the other simply accepts the apology, or if one person is doing all the thanking, then the result is an imbalance—and a loss of face” (57).
Typically, women have incorporated these conversational rituals as habits in attempt to appear congenial and considerate. Conversely, men favor ritual opposition and initiate arguments with opponents to determine logical flaws. Women may perceive these challenges as personal attacks, especially if they are unaccustomed to more aggressive environments.
Furthermore, women tend to solicit the opinions of others before executing a decision. Once again, this gives an impression of uncertainty. Tannen claims:
“Everything you say becomes evidence of your competence, or lack of it. Most jobs, especially high-level ones, involve the need to make decisions. Someone who appears to need help making decisions can easily be judged negatively” (62-63).
Additionally, women are more prone to complimenting others in the workplace, even if they think of criticisms. Meanwhile, men are less involved in asserting praise and tend to approach subordinates only if problems arise. As a result, women place themselves in an inferior position if their compliments are not returned and may think their male superiors are dissatisfied with their work.
Women gravitate toward these rituals because interactions with other women have trained them to not assume a one-up position. In fact, women’s conversational rituals often include self-deprecating speech but other women reciprocate the ritual, maintaining equality.
Tannen concludes that both conversational rituals are conventional, however, each works best when both parties share the same ritual. Misunderstandings are frequently avoided if the conversational styles are the same.
1) Which conversational rituals do you use on a regular basis?
2) Are there ways you will reevaluate your speech patterns after reading this chapter?
3) Why do you think women tend to apologize and thank others more than men?