Over 30 years ago, Dr. Deborah Tannen, Professor of Linguistics at Georgetown University, popularized the idea of gender differences in communication styles with her best-selling book, “You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Communication.”
She believes that “For girls, talk is the glue that holds relationships together. Boys’ relationships are held together primarily by activities: doing things together or talking about activities such as sports or, later, politics.”
Yet, not everyone buys her research or interpretation. In his New York Times article, Richard A. Shweder concludes his commentary on Tannen’s work by saying that “CERTAIN ideas are so tantalizing they almost deserve to be true” and wonders “whether sexual stereotypes of conversational styles are anything more than dangerous and ideologically seductive figures of speech.”
The bottom line is that any article on communication differences based on gender will ultimately meet fans and critics alike. So instead of rehashing what experts and critics have already shared, let’s take a different approach: perception.
I reached out to a few of my colleagues—all who work in the corporate world or with those who do. Since perception colors reality and influences those who can open or close doors of opportunity you may find their observations insightful:
- “Women are more likely to seek permission before speaking while men ask for understanding, and then state their case and what they want.” – Jenny Kovacs, Visibility Specialist
- “Women say ‘I think…’ or ‘I feel…’ while men say ‘Here’s how it is.’” – Carrie Gallant
- “Women are more likely to give others credit, and men are more likely to take credit for others’ ideas…” – Talia Ehrlich Dashow, Entrepreneur
- “In my experiences, women (not all) can be much more passive-aggressive with their communication while men more often just say it like it is. – Pam Blackman
- “I typically see men fuel their communication through intense but temporary emotions like fear, anger, sadness, joy, disgust or surprise whereas pervasive feelings (I feel loved, I feel confused, I feel appreciated, I feel misunderstood) color women’s communication.” – David Mykel, Founder of CliffHanger Academy
- “I think women qualify themselves and discount their ideas too often by saying, ‘I’m just wondering’ or ‘I don’t want to bother you but…’ We apologize. For everything. For being late, for being early. For being thorough, for being incomplete. For taking too long, for taking up space, for sharing our thoughts, for interrupting. Yet we’re getting wiser, stronger, and more confident.” – Julie Jakopic, President and CEO of iLead Strategies
The debate on communication and gender may continue, but my parting questions are these: Do the above perceptions ring true for you? And if they do, why should you care?
Tannen, Barbara. You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Communication (https://www.nytimes.com/1994/08/14/books/hey-you-still-just-don-t-understand.html)