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bookbuffet features Weekly Book Review: You Just Don't Understand

abstract: You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation (Harper) by Deborah Tannen. Lunch with your girlfriends whizzes by as you update each other on work, kids, schools, and husbands, and it feels like you barely scratch the surface. You know the names, sports and personalities of your female colleagues’ children, and where they are applying to college. You discuss their dating challenges and your mutual concerns about recent losses in your 529 and 401k accounts. The sole male in the conference room seems to dominate the discussion even though he is not leading the meeting. Your boss banters with male colleagues about NBA playoffs and free agents in baseball, but your efforts to connect with him on a personal level wither because you are not a sports fan. Your husband reads the paper over breakfast and watches the evening news when he gets home. He doesn’t ask about the details of your day, but is quick to interrupt your story before you finish telling it to offer “solutions.”


November 13, 2008

"Having It All" By Understanding Gender Differences in Conversation

Understanding the root of gender differences in conversation, both personal and professional, can be the key to more satisfying conversation in all areas of your life. It can facilitate family discussions about a new delegation of duties for your transition back to work; make workday breakfast and dinner conversations more satisfying to the whole family; give you tools for a successful business presentation to a mixed male and female audience; and empower you to finesse a performance review or negotiation for a raise with a supervisor or boss.

At home and in the workplace, and from a very young age, women and men approach and decipher conversation differently. In You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation, author and linguist, Deborah Tannen, probes beneath the gender differences in conversation to explain why we so often walk away from conversations with a member of the opposite gender feeling misunderstood, unattended or unheard, and, therefore, frustrated, angry or puzzled.

The pillars underpinning Tannen’s research and analysis on gender differences in conversation are intimacy and independence. Women approach conversation primarily as a network to build community and foster intimacy. They seek to build rapport with colleagues and friends, by sharing secrets, exchanging intimate details and swapping private stories of hardship, loss or trouble. Women avoid asymmetry in their relationships by commiserating, rather than trumpeting their achievements. By contrast, men use conversation to foster or preserve independence and navigate hierarchies, as a means of negotiating status and avoiding failure. They engage in conversation primarily to secure their position in the hierarchy by displaying mastery of information about politics, news, technology and sports, and by conveying information about their relative professional and personal achievement and success. Men do not normally reveal troubles, weakness or hardship and are more comfortable boasting than women are. While men do seek attachment and involvement, they navigate there through opposition and hierarchical contests, ever-cognizant of not showing weakness. Conversely, while women are interested in status and achievement, they tend to seek it through networks of connections and the building of community.

You Just Don’t Understand’s research bent is made accessible by Tannen’s use of familiar situations of cross-gender differences that are instantly recognizable. Your male colleague’s fluency in a business presentation stands in stark contrast your awkward trip back to the office with him where your efforts at small talk fall flat. Women at the conference table preface their questions to the female presenter with supportive and complimentary remarks in contrast to the men who stir discomfort by interrupting the speaker to challenge her findings. By revealing the motivations and gender differences that create conversational roadblocks, Tannen gives us the keys to personal and professional conversational success.

This review provided by the brilliant women at founders Marguerite Dorn, Esq. and Carol O'Day, Esq. Check out their site and book them for a talk at your next PTA, staff meeting, or women's support group meeting. They offer speaking, training, consulting and mentoring.



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