VOICES A Selection of Multicultural Readings

VOICES A Selection of Multicultural Readings

Kathleen S. Verderber Northern Kentuclcy University

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In American society, the games that boys have traditionally played and the games that girls have traditionally played have had different goals, rules, and roles. As a result the interaction that is necessary to be successful in each of these distinct speech communities is different. According toJulia T. wood, professor of Communicarion ar University of North carolina chapel Hill, from childhood men and women are conditioned to have differing communication styles, to talk differ- ently In this selection from her book GenderedLiyes: Communication, Gende4 and culture, the origins, behaviors, and motives for each style are discussed. Through understanding both masculine and feminine styles, we should be better equipped to interpret the verbal communication behaviors of both men and women.

G en dere d lnter action: M as culine and Feminine Styles of Verbal Communication

Julia T. Wood

I anguage not only expresses cultural views of I-gender but also constitutes individuals’ gen- der identities. The communication practices we use define us as masculine or feminine, in large measure, we create our own gender through talk. Because language constitutes masculinity and femininity, we should find generalizable differ- ences in how women and men communicate. Re- search bears out this expectation by documenting rather systematic differences in the ways men and women typically use language. You probably don’t need a textbook to tell you this, since your own interactions may have given you ample evi- dence of differences in how women and men talk.

What may not be clear from your own experi- ences, however, is exactly what those differences

From Gendered Lives: Communication, Gender, and. Cul- ture,by lulia T. Wood (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Inc., 1994) 137-148. Reprinted by permission of Wadsworth Publishing Company.

1 8

are and what they imply. If you are like mosr peo- ple, you’ve sometimes felt uncomfortable or mis- understood or mystified in communication with members of the other sex, but you’ve not been able to put your finger on whar was causing the difficulty. In the pages that follow, we’ll try ro gain greater insight into masculine and feminine styles of speech and some of the confusion that results from differences between them. We want to un- derstand how each style evolves, what it involves, and how to interpret verbal communication in ways that honor the morives of those using it.

Gendered Speech Comrnunities Writing in the I940s, Suzanne Langer introduced the idea of “discourse communities.” Like George Herbert Mead, she asserted that culture. or col- lective life, is possible only to the extent that a group of people share a symbol sysrem and the meanings encapsulated in it. This theme recurred

in Langer’s philosophical writings over the course of her life (1953, 1979). Her germinal in- sights into discourse communiries prefigured later interest in the ways in which language cre- ates individual identity and sustains cultural life. Since the early 1970s, scholars have studied speech communities, or cultures. William Labov (1972, p. I2l) extended Langer’s ideas by defin- ing a speech community as existing when a group of people share a set of norms regarding commu- nicative practices. By this he meant that a com- munication culture exists when people share un- derstandings about goals of communication, strategies for enacting those goals, and ways of interpreting communication.

It’s obvious we have entered a different com- munication culture when we travel to non-Eng- lish-speaking countries, because the language dif- fers from our own. Distinct speech communities are less apparent when they use the same lan- guage that we do, but use it in different ways and to achieve different goals. The communication culture of African-Americans who have not adopted the dominant pattern of North American speech, for instance, relies on English yet departs in interesting and patterned ways from the com- munication of middle- class white North Ameri- cans. The fact that diverse groups of people de- velop distinctive communication patterns reminds us again of the constant interaction of communication and culture. As we have already seen, the standpoint we occupy in society influ- ences what we know and how we act. We now see that this basic tenet of standpoint theory also im- plies that communication styles evolve out of dif- ferent standpoints.

Studies of gen{er and communication (Camp-

b e l l , 1 9 7 3 ; C o a t e s , 1 9 8 6 ; C o a t e s & C a m e r o n , 1989; Hall6r Langellier. 1988; Kramarae, I98I; Lakoff, 1975;-tannen, 1990a, 1990b) have con- vincingly shown that in many ways women and men operate from dissimilar assumptions about the goals and strategies of communication. F. L.

Johnson (1989), in fact, asserts that men and

Julia T. Wood t9

women live in rwo different worlds and that this is evident in the disparate forms of communica- tion they use. Given this, it seems appropriate to consider masculine and feminine styles of com- municating as embodying two distinct speech communities. To understand these different com- munities and the validity of each, we will first consider how we are socialized into feminine and masculine speech communities. After this, we will explore divergencies in how women and men t1p- ically communicate. Please note the importance of the word typically and others that indicare we are discussing generalizable differences, not ab- solute ones. Some women are not socialized into feminine speech, or they are and Iater reject it; Iikewise, some men do not learn or choose not to adopt a masculine style of communication. What follows describes gendered speech communities into which mosf women and men are socializeo.

The Lessons of Childplay

We’ve seen that socialization is a gendered process in which boys and girls are encouraged to develop masculine and feminine identities. Extending that understanding, we now explore how socialization creates gendered speech communities. One way to gain insight into how boys and girls learn norms of communication is to observe young children at play. ln interactions with peers, boys and girls learn how to talk and how to interpret what each other says; they discover how to signal their inten- tions with words and how to respond approprl- ately to others’ communication; and they learn codes to demonstrate involvement and interest (Tannen, 1990a). In short, interacting with peers teaches children rules o[ communication.

lnitial insight into the importance of children’s play in shaping patterns of communication came from a classic study by D. N. Maltz and R. Borker (1982). As they watched young children engaged in recreation, the researchers were struck by two observations: Young children almost always play

20 Genclered lnteraction: Masculine qnd Feminine Styles of Verbal Communication

in sex-segregated groups, and girls and boys tend to play different kinds of games. Malu and Borker found that boys’games (football, baseball) and girls’ games (school, house, jumprope) cultivate distinct understandings of communication and the rules by which it operares.

B o y s ‘ G a m e s

Boys’games usually involve fairly large groups- nine individuals for each baseball team, for in- stance. Most boys’ games are competitive, have clear goals, and are organized by rules and roles that specify who does what and how to play. Be- cause these games are structured by goals, rules, and roles, there is little need to discuss how to play, although there may be talk about strategies to reach goals. Maltz and Borker realized that in boys’ games, an individual’s status depends on standing out, being better, and often dominating other players. From these games, boys learn how to interact in their communities. Specifically, boys’ games cultivate three communication rules:

l. Use communication to assert yourself and your ideas; use talk to achieve something.

2. Use communication to attract and maintain an audience.

3. Use communication to compete with others for the “talk stage,” so that they don’t gain more attention than you; learn to wrest the focus from others and onto yourself.

These communication rules are consistent with other aspects of masculine socialization that we have already discussed. For instance, notice the emphasis on individuality and competition. AIso, we see that these rules accent achieve- ment- doing something, accomplishing a goal. Boys learn they must do things to be valued mem- bers of the team It’s also the case that intensely close, personal relationships are unlikely to be formed in large groups. Finally, we see the under-

current of masculinity’s emphasis on being invul- nerable and guarded: lf others are the competi- tion from whom you must seize center stage, then you cannot let them know too much about your- self and your weaknesses.


Turning now to girls’ games, we find that quite different patterns exist, and they lead to distinc- tive understandings of communication. Girls tend to play in pairs or in very small groups rather than large ones. Also, games like house and school do not have preset, clear-cut goals, rules, and roles. There is no analogy for the touchdown in playing house. Because girls’ games are not structured ex- ternally, players have to talk among themselves to decide what they’re doing and what roles they

have. Playing house, for insrance, typically begins with a discussion about who is going to be the daddy and who the mommy. This is typical of the patterns girls use to generate rules and roles lor their games. The lack of stipulated goals for the games is also important, since it tends to cultivate in girls an interest in the process of interaction more than its products. For their games to work, girls have to cooperate and work out problems by talking: No external rules exist to settle disputes. From these games, Maltz and Borker noted, girls Iearn normative communication patterns of their speech communities. Specifically, girls’ games teach three basic rules for communication:

l. Use collaborative, cooperative talk to create and maintain relationships. The process of. communication, not its content, is the heart of relationships.

2. Avoid criticizing, outdoing, or putting others down; i[ criticism is necessary, make it gen- tle: never exclude others.

3. Pay attention to others and to relationships; interpret and respond to others’ leelings sensitively.

These basic understandings of communication echo and reinforce other aspects of feminine so- cialization. Girls’ games stress cooperation, col- laboration, and sensitivity to others’feelings. Also notice the focus on process encouraged in girls’ games. Rather than interacting to achieve some outcome, girls learn that communication itself is the goal. Whereas boys Iearn they have to do something to be valuable, the lesson for girls is to be. Their worth depends on being good people, which is defined by being cooperative, inclusive, and sensitive. The lessons of child’s play are car- ried forward. In fact, the basic rules of communi- cation that adult women and men employ turn out to be only refined and elaborated versions of the very same ones evident in girls’ and boys’ childhood games.

lulia T. Wood, 21

Gendered Communication Practices

ln her popular book, You Just Dotr’t lJnderstand: Women and Men in Communication, linguist Debo- rah Tannen (1990b, p. 42) declares that ‘commu-

nication between men and women can be like cross cultural communication, prey to a clash of conversational styles.” Her study of men’s and women’s talk led her to identify distinctions be- tween the speech communities typical of women and men. Not surprisingly, Tannen traces gen- dered communication patterns to differences in boys’ and girls’ communication with parents and peers. Like other scholars (Bate, 1988; Hall & Langellier, 1988; Kramarae, l98l; Treichler & Kramarae, 1983; Wood, I993a), Tannen believes that women and men typically engage in dis- tinctive styles of communication with different purposes, rules, and understandings of how to interpret talk. We will consider features of wom- en’s and men’s speech identified by a number of researchers. As we do, we will discover some of the complications that arise when men and women operate by different rules in conversations with each other.

Women’s Speech

For most women, communication is a primary way to establish and maintain relationships with others. They engage in conversation to share themselves and to learn about others. This is an important point: For women, talk is the essence of relationships. Consistent with this primary goal, women’s speech tends to display identifiable features that foster connections, support, close- ness, and understanding.

Equality between people is generally important in women’s communication (Aries, 1987). To achieve symmetry, women often match experi- ences to indicate “You’re not alone in how you

22 Gendered Interaction: Masculine and Feminine styles oJ verbal communication

feel.” Typical ways to communicate equality would be saying, “l’ve done the same thing many times,” “l’ve felt the same way,” or “something Iike that happened to me too and 1 felt like you do.” Growing out of the quest for equality is a par- ticipatory mode of interaction in which commu- nicators respond to and build on each other’s ideas in the process of conversing (Hall 6l L-angel- lier, 1988). Rather than a rigid you-tell-your-ideas- then-l’ll-tell-mine sequence, women’s speech more characteristically follows an interactive pat- tern in which different voices weave together to create conversatrons.

Also important in women’s speech is showing support for others. To demonstrate support, women often express understanding and sympa- thy with a friend’s situation or feelings. “Oh, you must feel terrible,” “I really hear what you are say- ing,” or “I think you did the right thing” are com- municative clues that we understand and support how another feels. Related to these first two fea- tures is women’s typical attention to the relation- ship level of communication (Wood, I993a, f 993b; Wood & Inman, 1993). You will recall that the relationship level of talk focuses on feel- ings and the relationship between communicators rather than on the content of messages. In con- versations between women, it is common to hear a number of questions that probe for greater un- derstanding of feelings and perceptions surround- ing the subject oftalk (Beck, 1988, p. 104; Tannen, 1990b). “Tell me more about what happened,” “How did you feel when it occurred?” “Do you think it was deliberate?” “How does this fit into the overall relationship?” are probes that help a listener understand a speaker’s perspective. The content of talk is dealt with, but usually not with- out serious attention to the feelings involved.

A fourth feature of women’s speech style is conversational “maintenance work” (Beck, I988; Fishman. 1978). This involves efforts to sustain conversation by inviting others to speak and by prompting them to elaborate their experiences.

Women, for instance, ask a number of questions that initiate topics for others: “How was your day?” “Tell me about your meeting,” “Did any- thing interesting happen on your trip?” “What do you think of the candidates this year?” Commu- nication of this sort opens the conversational door to others and maintains interaction.

lnclusivity also surfaces in a fifth quality of women’s talk, which is responsiveness (Beck, 1988; Tannen, 1990a, 1990b; Wood, 7993a). Women usually respond in some fashion to what others say. A woman might say “Tell me more” or “That’s interesting”; perhaps she will nod and use eye contact to signal she is engaged; perhaps she will ask a question such as “Can you explain what you mean?” Responsiveness reflects learned ten- dencies to care about others and to make them feel valued and included (Kemper, 1984; Lakoff, I975). It affirms another person and encourages elaboration by showing interest in what was said.

A sixth quality of women’s talk is personal, con- crete style (Campbell, 1973; Hall & Langellier, 1988; Tannen, I990b). Typicalof women’s conver- sation are details, personal disclosures, anecdotes, and concrete reasoning. These features cultivate a personal tone in women’s communication, and they facilitate feelings of closeness by connecting communicators’ lives. The detailed. concrete em- phasis prevalent in women’s talk also clarilies is- sues and feelings so that communicators are able to understand and idendfy with each other. Thus, the personal character of much of women’s inter- action sustains interpersonal closeness.

A final feature of women’s speech is tentative- ness. This may be expressed in a number of florms. Sometimes women use verbal hedges such as “I kind of feel you may be overreacting. ” In other situations they qualify statements by saying “I’m probably not the best judge of this, but . . .” An- other way to keep talk provisional is to tag a ques- tion onto a statement in a way that invites another to respond: “That was a pretty good movie, wasn’t it?” “We should get out this weekend, don’t you

think?” Tentative communication leaves open the door for others to respond and express their opin- 10ns.

There has been controversy about tentative- ness in women’s speech. R. Lakoff (1975), who first noted that women use more hedges, quali- fiers, and tag questions than men, claimed these represent lack of confidence and uncertainty. Calling women’s speech powerless, Lakoff argued that it reflects women’s socialization into subordi- nate roles and low self-esteem. Since Lakoffs work, however, other scholars (Bate, 1988; Wood 6c Lenze, I99lb) have suggested different expla- nations of women’s tentative style of speaking. Dale Spender (1984a), in particular, points out that lakoffs judgments of the inferiority of wom- en’s speech were based on using male speech as

the standard, which does not recognize the dis- tinctive validity of different speech communities. Rather than reflecting powerlessness, the use of hedges, qualifiers, and tag questions may express women’s desires to keep conversation open and

to include others. lt is much easier to jump into a

conversation that has not been sealed with ab-

solute, firm statements. A tentative style of speak- ing supports women’s general desire to create equality and include others. It is important to re-

alize, however, that people outside of women’s

speech community may misinterpret women’s in-

tentions in using tentative communication.

Men Speech

Masculine speech communities define the goals of talk as exerting control, preserving indepen- dence, and enhancing status. Conversation is an

arena for proving oneself and negotiating prestige. This leads to two general tendencies in men’s

communication. First, men often use talk to es-

tablish and defend their personal status and their ideas, by asserting themselves and/or by challeng- ing others. Second, when they wish to comfort or

support another, they typically do so by respect-

JuliaT. Wood 23

ing the other’s independence and avoiding com- munication they regard as condescending (Tan- nen, I990b). These tendencies will be more clear as we review specific features of masculine talk.

To establish their own status and value, men often speak to exhibit knowledge, skill, or ability. Equally typical is the tendency to avoid disclosing personal information that might make a man ap- pear weak or vulnerable (Derlega 6c Chaiken, 1976; Lewis & McCarthy, I988; Saurer 6t Eisler, 1990). For instance, ifsomeone expresses concern about a relationship with a boyfriend, a man might say “The way you should handle that is . . . ” “Don’t let him get to you,” or “You orrght to iurt tell him . . .” This illustrates the tendency to give advice that Tannen reports is common in men’s speech. On the relationship level of communica- tion, giving advice does two things. First, it fo- cuses on instrumental activity-what another should do or be-and does not acknowledge feel- ings. Second, it expresses superiority and main- tains control. It says “I know what you should do” or “l would know how to handle that.” The mes- sage may be perceived as implying the speaker is

superior to the other person. Between men, ad- vice giving seems understood as a give-and-take, but it may be interpreted as unfeeling and conde- scending by women whose rules for communicat- ing differ.

A second prominent feature of men’s talk is in-

strumentality-the use of speech to accomplish instrumental objectives. As we have seen, men are socialized to do things, achieve goals (Bellinger & Gleason, f 982). ln conversation, this is often ex- pressed through problem-solving efforts that focus on getting information, discovering facs, and sug- gesting solutions. Again, between men this is usu- ally a comfortable orientation, since both speakers have typically been socialized to value instrumen- tality. However, conversations between women and men are often derailed by the lack of agree- ment on what this informational, instrumental focus means. To manv women it feels as if men

24 Gendered Interaction: Masculine and Feminine Styles of Verbal Communication

don’t care abour their feelings. When a man fo- cuses on the content level of meaning afrcr a woman has disclosed a problem, she may feel he is disregarding her emotions and concerns. He, on the other hand, may well be trying to support her in the way that he has learned to show support- suggesting ways to solve the problem.

A third feature of men’s communication is con- versational dominance. Despite jokes about wom- en’s talkativeness, research indicates that in most contexts, men not only hold their own but domi- nate the conversation. This tendency, although not present in infancy, is evident in preschoolers (Austin, Salehi, & Leffler, 1987). Compared with girls and women, boys and men talk more fre- quently (Eakins & Eakins, 1976; Thorne & Henley, I975) and for longer periods of time (Aries, I987, Eakins & Eakins, I976;Kramarae, l98l;Thorne & Henley, 1975). Further, men en- gage in other verbal behaviors that sustain con- versational dominance. They may reroute conver- sations by using what another said as a jump-off point for their own topic, or they may interrupt. While both sexes engage in interruptions, most research suggests that men do it more frequently (Beck, 1988′ Mulac, Wiemann, Widenmann, & G i b s o n , 1 9 8 8 ; W e s t & Z i m m e r m a n , 1 9 8 3 ) . N o t only do men seem to intenupt more than women, but they do so for different reasons. L. P. Stewart and her colleagues (1990, p. 5I) suggest that men use interruptions to control conversation by chal- lenging other speakers or wresting the talk stage from them, while women interrupt to indicate in- terest and to respond. This interpretation is shared by a number of scholars who note that women use interruptions to show support, en- courage elaboration, and affirm others (Aleguire, 1978; Aries, 1987; Mulac et al., 1988).

Fourth, men tend to express themselves in fairly absolute, assertive ways. Compared with women, their language is typically more forceful, direct, and authoritative (Beck, I988; Eakins 6r Eakins, I978; Stewart et al., 1990; Tannen, I990a, 1990b). Tentative speech such as hedges and dis-

claimers is used less frequently by men than by women. This is consistent with gender socializa- tion in which men learn to use talk to assert them- selves and to take and hold positions. However, when another person does not share that under- standing of communication, speech that is ab- solute and directive may seem to close off conver- sation and Ieave no room for others to speak.

Fifth, compared with women, men communi- cate more abstractly. They frequently speak in general terms that are removed from concrete ex- periences and distanced from personal feelings (Schaef, l98 l ; Treichler & Kramarae, 1983). The abstract style typical of men’s speech reflects the public and impersonal contexts in which they often operate and the less personal emphasis in their speech communities. Within public environ- ments, norms for speaking call for theoretical, conceptual, and general thought and communica- tion. Yet, within more personal relationships, ab- stract talk sometimes creates barriers to knowing another intimately.

Finally, men’s speech tends not to be highly re- sponsive, especially not on the relationship Ievel of communication (Beck, 1988; Wood, 1993a). Men, more than women, give what are called “minimal response cues” (Parlee, I979), which areverbalizations such as “yeah” or “umhmm.” In interaction with women, who have learned to demonstrate interest more vigorously, minimal response cues generally inhibit conversation be- cause they are perceived as indicating lack of in- volvement (Fishman, 1978; Stewart et al., 1990). Another way in which men’s conversation is gen- erally less relationally responsive than women’s is Iack of expressed sympathy and understanding and lack of self-disclosures (Saurer 6t Eisler, 1990). Within the rules of men’s speech commu- nities, sympathy is a sign of condescension, and revealing personal problems is seen as making one vulnerable. Yet women’s speech rules count sympathy and disclosure as demonstrations of equality and support. This creates potential for misunderstanding between women and men.

Misinterpretations Between Women and Men In this final section, we explore what happens when men and women talk, each operating out of a distinctive speech community. In describing fea- tures typical o[each gender’s talk, we already have noted differences that provide fertile ground for misunderstandings. We now consider several ex- amples of recurrent misreadings between women and men.

Showirrg Support

The scene is a private conversation between Martha and George. She tells him she is worried about her friend. George gives a minimum re- sponse cue, saying only “Oh.” To Martha this suggests he isn’t interested, since women make and expect more of what D. Tannen (1986) calls “listening noises” to signal interest. Yet, as Tan- n e n ( I 9 8 6 , 1 9 9 0 b ) a n d A . B e c k ( 1 9 8 8 ) n o t e , George is probably thinking if she wants to tell him something she will, since his rules of speech emphasize using talk to assert oneself (Bellinger

& Gleason, f 982). Even without much encour- agement, Martha continues by describing the ten- sion in her friend’s marriage and her own con- cern about how she can help. She says, “I feel so bad for Barbara, and I want to help her, but I don’t know what to do.” George then says, “It’s

their problem, not yours. Just butt out and let them settle their own relationship.” At this, Martha explodes: “Who asked for your advice?” George is now completely frustrated and con- fused. He thought Martha wanted advice, so he gave it. She is hurt that George didn’t tune into her feelings and comfort her about her worries. Each is annoyed and unhappy.

The problem here is not so much what George and Martha say and don’t say. Rather, it’s how they interpret each other’s communication-actually, how they misinterpret it, because each relies on rules that are not familiar to the other. They fail to

JuliaT. Wood 25

understand that each is operating by different rules of talk. George is respecting Martha’s inde- pendence by not pushing her to talk. When he thinks she directly requests advice, he offers it in an effort to help. Martha, on the other hand, wants comfort and a connection with George-that is her purpose in talking with him. She finds his ad- vice unwelcome and dismissive of her feelings. He doesn’t offer syrnpathy, because his rules for com- munication define this as condescending. Yet within Martha’s speech community, not to show sympathy is to be unfeeling and unresponsive.

“Troubles Talh”

Tannen (1990b) identifies talk about troubles, or personal problems, as a kind of interaction in which hurt feelings may result from the contrast between most men’s and women’s rules of com- munication. A woman might tell her partner that she is feeling down because she did not get a job

she wanted. ln an effort to be supportive, he

26 Gendered lnteraction: Masculine ond Feminine Styles of Verbal Communication

might respond by saying, “You shouldn’t feel bad. Lots of people don’t get jobs they want.” To her this seems to dismiss her feelings-to belittle them by saying lots of people experience her situ- ation. Yet within masculine speech communities, this is a way of showing respect for another by not assuming that she or he needs syrnpathy.

Now let’s turn the tables and see what happens when a man feels roubled. When he meets Nancy, Craig is unusually quiet because he feels down about not getting a job offer. Sensing that something is wrong, Nancy tries to show interest by asking, “Are you okay? What’s bothering you?” Craig feels she is imposing and trying to get him to show a vulnerability he prefers to keep to himself. Nancy probes further to show she cares. As a result, he feels intruded on and withdraws further. Then Nancy feels shut out.

But perhaps Craig does decide to tell Nancy why he feels down. After hearing about his rejec- tion letter, Nancy says, “I know how you feel. I felt so low when I didn’t get that position at Datanet.” She is matching experiences to show Craig that she understands his feelings and that he’s not alone. Within his communication rules, however, this is demeaning his situation by fo- cusing on her, not him. When Nancy mentions her own experience, Craig thinks she is trying to steal the center stage for herself. Within his speech community, that is one way men vie for dominance and attention. Yet Nancy has learned to share similar experiences as a way to build connections with others.

The Point of the Story

Another instance in which feminine and mascu- line communication rules often clash and cause problems is in relating experiences. Typically, men have learned to speak in a linear manner in which they move sequentially through major points in a story to get to the climax. Their talk tends to be straightforward without a great many details. The rules of feminine speech. however. call for more

detailed and less linear storytelling. Whereas a man is likely to provide rather bare information about what happened, a woman is more likely to embed the information within a larger context of the people involved and other things going on. Women include details not because all of the specifics are important in themselves but because recounting them shows involvement and allows a conversational partner to be more fully part of the situation being described.

Because feminine and masculine rules about details differ, men often find women’s way of telling stories wandering and unfocused. Con- versely, men’s style of storytelling may strike women as leaving out all of the interesting details. Many a discussion between women and men has ended either with his exasperated demand, “Can’t you get to the point?” or with her frustrated ques- tion, “Why don’t you tell me how you were feel- ing and what else was going on?” She wants more details than his rules call for; he is interested in fewer details than she has Iearned to supply.

Relationship Talh

“Can we talk about us?” is the opening of innu- merable conversations that end in misunderstand- ing and hurt. As Tannen (1986) noted in ^near- lier book, That’s Not What I Meant, men and women tend to have very different ideas about what it means to talk about relationships. ln gen- eral, men are inclined to think a relationship is going fine as long as there is no need to talk about it. They are interested in discussing the relation- ship only if there are particular problems to be ad- dressed. In contrast, women generally think a re- lationship is working well as long as they can talk about it with partners. The difference here grows out of the fact that men tend to use communication to do things and solve problems, while women generally regard the process of communicating as a primary way to create and sustain relationships with others. For many women, conversation is a

way to be with another person-to affirm and en- hance closeness. Men’s different rules stipulate that communication is to achieve some goal or fix some problem. No wonder men often duck when their partners want to “discuss the relationship,” and women often feel a relationship is in trouble when their partners are unwilling to talk about it.

These are only four o[ many situations in which feminine and masculine rules of communi- cation may collide and cause problems. Women learn to use talk to build and sustain connections with others. Men Iearn that talk is to convey in- formation and establish status. Given these dis- tinct starting points, it’s not surprising that women and men often find themselves locked into misunderstandings.

Interestingly, research (Sollie 6z Fischer, 1985) suggests that women and men who are androgy- nous are more flexible communicators, who are able to engage comfortably in both masculine and feminine styles of speech. The breadth of their communicative competence enhances the range of situations in which they can be effective in achieving various goals. On learning about differ- ent speech rules, many couples find they can improve their communication. Each partner has become bilingual, and so communication be- tween them is smoother and more satisfying. When partners understand how to interpret each other’s rules, they are less likely to misread mo- tives. In addition, they learn how to speak the other’s language, which means women and men become more gratifying conversational partners for each other, and they can enhance the quality of their relationships.

JuliaT. Wood 27

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Chapter3 Egoism 29

Questions for Reflection

t. Observe and reflect on your own speech patterns To what extent is your speech scyle reflective of that which is typical for your gender?

2. Do the primary games you played in your child- hood match those suggesred by the authors for persons of your sex?

3. To what extent do your childhood socialization experiences explain your current speech style?

4. Ifyour current speech style is not explained by your childhood experiences, to what do you at- tribute your style

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