The characteristics of men and women’s communication styles, specifically their speech patterns, contrast each other. These “conversational rituals” note that men incorporate jokes and are relatively transparent in their speech patterns, while women tend to be concerned with the feelings of other people and attempt to refrain from possessing too much authority. Although these styles are both legitimate, differences may render problems when both genders interact.
Tannen elaborates on these dichotomies by noting men’s hesitance to ask for directions. This example is quintessential, yet it reveals the underpinnings of men and women’s communication methods. Typically, men are averse to asking questions because they are concerned it demonstrates a lack of knowledge. In contrast, women are more open to asking questions. However, Tannen observes that this tendency may cause negative consequences, such as women appearing less capable than their male counterparts.
Likewise, Tannen examines how women are encouraged not to exude confidence or assertiveness in society, and therefore, adopt strategies that make them less attractive in professional settings. Men, meanwhile, are more adept at portraying a confident image, regardless of whether or not they are actually comfortable in a setting. Tannen asserts:
“Different people will talk very differently, not because of the absolute level of their confidence or lack of it, but because of their habitual ways of speaking” (35).
These habitual speech patterns are perpetuated by society, encouraging girls at a young age to “downplay their certainty.” As a result, women are conditioned to modify their speech in order to prevent appearing arrogant and pretentious. Particularly, this is most evident among white, middle-class Americans, as Tannen states:
“For middle-class American women, though, the constraint is clear: talking about your own accomplishments in a way that calls attention to yourself is not acceptable” (38).
Furthermore, women learn early on that other women accept them better if they are not assertive and offer “suggestions rather than orders.” In groups with members of the same gender, women tend to interact as equals while men adopt a hierarchical structure. In effect, women suggest ideas that would benefit the group and men inherently develop mechanisms to prevent being placed in the lowest position. As a result, women gradually assume a less confident appearance in order to be well received while men attempt to counter anything that would place them at the bottom.
1) What was your initial response after reading this chapter?
2) What are some ways to appear confident without seeming arrogant?
3) Have you noticed the differences Tannen cites in your own experience in a university setting?