Topical Vocabulary

language and gender research

power/dominance approach

culture/difference approach

performative social construct

public speaking

private speaking

report talk

rapport talk

to establish connections

to match experiences

to negotiate and maintain status

to open lines of communication

to take smb. on their own terms


assertiveness training

verbal performance

mutual acceptance


Who talks more, then, women or men? The seemingly contradictory evidence is reconciled by the difference between what I call public and private speaking. More men feel comfortable doing "public speaking," while more women feel comfortable doing "private" speaking. Another way of capturing these differences is by using the terms report-talk and rapport-talk.

For most women, the language of conversation is primarily Topical Vocabulary a language of rapport: a way of establishing connections and negotiating relationships. Emphasis is placed on displaying similarities and matching experiences. From childhood, girls criticize peers who try to stand out or appear better than others. People feel their closest connections at home, or in settings where they feel at home—with one or a few people they feel close to and comfortable with—in other words, during private speaking. But even the most public situations can be approached like private speaking. For most men, talk is primarily a means to preserve independence and negotiate and maintain status in a Topical Vocabulary hierarchical social order. This is done by exhibiting knowledge and skill, and by holding center stage through verbal performance such as story-telling, joking, or imparting information. From childhood, men learn to use talking as a way to get and keep attention. So they are more comfortable speaking in larger groups made up of people they know less well—in the broadest sense, "public speaking." But even the most private situations can be approached like public speaking, more like giving a report than establishing rapport.

What is the solution, then, if women and men are talking at Topical Vocabulary cross purposes, about gossip as about other matters? How are we to open lines of communication? The answer is for both men and women to try to take each other on their own terms rather than applying the standards of one group to the behavior of the other. This is not a "natural" thing to do, because we tend to look for a single "right" way of doing things. Understandably, experts are as liable to do this as anyone else.

A national audience-participation talk show featured a psychologist answering questions about couples' relationships. A woman in the audience voiced Topical Vocabulary a complaint: "My husband talks to his mother, but he won't talk to me. If I want to know how his day was, I listen to his conversation with his mother." The psychologist told this woman, "He probably trusts his mother more than he trusts you." This comment reinforced the woman's own suspicions and worst fears. And what the psychologist said was perfectly legitimate and reasonable—within the framework of talk in women's friendships: The friend to whom you talk daily, telling all the little experiences you had, is your best friend. But how reasonable an Topical Vocabulary interpretation is it from the man's point of view? I would wager that her husband did not think he needed to do anything special to create intimacy with his wife, because he was with her every day. But because his mother was alone, he humored her by telling her unimportant little things that she seemed to want to
hear. His mother's need to hear such details would make sense to her son because she was alone and needed them as a substitute for the real thing, like watching life from her window. He wouldn't understand Topical Vocabulary why his wife would want and need to hear such talk. Although it is possible that this man trusts his mother more than
his wife, the evidence given does not warrant such a conclusion. This therapist was judging the man's way of talking by women's standards. In a sense, the values of therapy are those more typically associated with women's ways of talking than with men's. This may be why a study showed that among inexperienced therapists, women do better than men. But over time, with experience, this gender difference disappears. Eventually, perhaps, men therapists—and men in Topical Vocabulary therapy—learn to talk like women. This is all to the good. Assertiveness training, on the other hand, teaches women to talk more like men, and this too is to the good. Women and men would both do well to learn strategies more typically used by members of the other group – not to switch over entirely, but to have more strategies at their disposal.

Habitual ways of talking are hard to change. Learning to respect others’ ways of talking may be a bit easier. Mutual acceptance will at least prevent the pain of being told you are doing something wrong Topical Vocabulary when you are only doing things your way.

(from You Just Don’t Understand by D. Tannen)

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