Tannen’s Genderlect Styles Applied to Communication Problems
It is been said many times that men will never understand women and vice versa. This stems from the continuing problem known as miscommunication. It is safe to assume that we have all, at one time or another, have found ourselves frustrated and unsatisfied with the opposite sex. When it comes to intimate relationships, this concept seems to rise at a greater level of agitation and tension than other relations with people.
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Deborah Tannen’s Genderlect Theory gives insight to where these communication complications come from between opposite sexes. She highlights the matters of communication differences such as: (1) women’s rapport versus men’s report, (2) the idea of public versus private speaking which include matters of conversation, storytelling, listening skills, asking questions, and conflict, as well as (3) metamessages. I will use Tannen’s theory as a frame to understand the communication problems within my own relationship.
I will apply each key point of the theory to the problems that are present in my relationship. I propose that by in doing so, I will be able to understand and begin to pursue a better channel of communication with my boyfriend. Introduction I grew up as an only child and I allegedly have been known to have the sham disorder of “only child syndrome. ” So with this said, I have to confess that I am used to getting my way in anything and everything. I was raised by a very unhappy, strict father who chose to show his love for me by spoiling me with money.
My mother was a stay at home mom who had little say in my upbringing. Obviously, I and still am very stubborn; and when I do not agree with an issue, I tend to have a “know it all” attitude. In turn, when an argument arises with my boyfriend, I am overly emotional and stubborn (as stated before). On the other hand, my boyfriend grew up in a household of five children with two working parents. He learned at a young age that grudges were not productive when it came to relationships with his siblings. Now, as an adult, he is much more clear and concise when it comes to arguing.
He wants to get to the core of the problem, fix it, and move on. I want to have attributes similar to his when it comes to us arguing but because I am so emotional, it seems that it will be difficult to accomplish. I am expecting to find insight to the reasons behind why our communication styles are so different by applying Tannen’s Genderlect theory to my relationship; as well as how to develop a better communication channel. Review of Literature Parental Influence on Conflict Management Gender roles and conflict management are often connected.
For example, egalitarian husbands and wives communicate more openly about work and family, try to compromise in decision making, and tend to engage in open conflict comparative to traditional couples (Amato & Booth, 1997). On the other hand, according to Kaufman (2000) traditional husbands and wives may not view conflict as something to engage in outwardly, and highly traditional attitudes that embrace strict devotion to traditional masculinity and femininity could be associated with less compromising seeking and possibly more acts of control in relationships.
Koerner and Fitzpatrick (1997, 2002) stated that how a person’s family deals with conflict is often predictive of how they will deal with conflict in their own relationships. Couples Conflict Conflict is natural and inevitable in all relationships. A person’s experience of interpersonal conflict is often highest with one’s significant other (Argyle and Furnham, 1983). Marital relationships are particularly prone to conflict because spouses develop a great deal of shared intimacy and interdependence.
These qualities make the partners more vulnerable to one another. In addition, research has shown that the mere existence of conflict is not necessarily bad. In fact, some conflict produces positive outcomes. Conflict allows relational partners to express important feelings and to create solutions to problems. Further, well managed conflict can strengthen relational connections and increase relational unity. Loneliness Loneliness is a universal social occurrence. Perlman and Peplau (1981) define oneliness as the disturbing experience that occurs when a person feels that his or her network of social relations does not fulfill the person’s needs in important ways. About one-third of young and middle-aged adults have reported moderate to serious loneliness (Dykstra, van Tilburg, & de Jong-Gierveld, 2005). Exercising Communication Techniques Examining communication patterns in couples is crucial to helping couples gain awareness of the processes they use to communicate with each other.
However, as Weeks and Treat (2001) point out, there are few techniques that specifically focus on this aspect of couples’ communication. The ‘‘I Said, You Said’’ exercise provides an example of such a technique, which begins by purposefully eliminating the use of visual non-verbal cues in the couple’s conversation patterns in order to focus on the verbal components of messages. This exercise starts at the very basic level of what do you say, and what do you hear. This exercise gradually increases the emotional intensity.
This implies that over time a person will internalize the initial skills taught in such a way that the skills will build upon previous experiences in an effort toward mastery (Vygotsky 1978; Wood et al. 1976). As the partners become more aware of how they are communicating with each other, they gain a better understanding of their own unique interactive patterns. This awareness opens up possibilities for them to change their ineffective communication patterns and ultimately improve their relationship.
Among her other works, the topics of her articles and 22 books have included analysis of conversational discourse, spoken and written language, orality and literacy, doctor-patient communication, cross-cultural communication, modern Greek discourse, formulaicity, framing, the relationship between conversational and literary discourse, narrative, and gender and language. What Is Genderlect? Genderlect is the term used by Em Griffin (2000) to label Deborah Tannen’s theory of “cross-cultural communication” which describes communication between men and women.
Griffin continues to explain, “The term genderlect suggests that masculine and feminine styles of discourse are best viewed as two distinct cultural dialects rather than as inferior or superior ways of speaking” (p. 430). Overview of the Theory The effort of understanding the different types of communication between men and women is valuable because it will enhance better working relationships and help reduce misunderstandings and conflicts. Ultimately, it is all about conversational style, not what people say but how they say it.
In Texts, Tannen assumes that male and female conversational styles are equally valid; however, she states, “we try to talk to each other honestly, but it seems at times that we are speaking in different languages – or at least different genderlects” (Tannen, 1990, pp. 109-111). Rapport versus Report In her book, “You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation,” Tannen (1990) writes, “for most women; the language of conversation is primarily a language of rapport: a way of establishing connections and negotiating relationships.
On the other hand, Tannen refers to conversation for most men as a “primary means to preserve independence, and negotiate and maintain status in a hierarchical social order” (p. 77). So basically, status and connection are the primary goals driving men and women’s conversation styles. Public versus Private To better understand this concept of Tannen’s theory, Griffin (2000) has summarized it down into the following five main areas: (1) conversation, (2) storytelling, (3) listening skills, (4) asking questions, and (5) conflict. Conversation
Tannen (1990) states that women do most of the talking in private conversations such as when they are at home. Most men on the other hand, are very quiet at home, but will freely talk up in public and participate in discussion groups. To elaborate on this point, men use a reporting communication style, “to command attention, convey information, and insist on agreement” (Griffin, 2000, p. 433), also avoiding small talk. Women on the other hand have a rapport communications style enjoying private conversations. However, when in a public situation, women aren’t as comfortable in voicing their opinions.
Storytelling Tannen agrees with other theorists that stories are told by men and women as a means to conveying aspirations, desires and ideals. Men are usually the heroes in their own stories and often portray an event in a humorous manner, which holds the attention of the audience. Women however, do not like to be the center of attention. Rather, they seek acceptance by relaying stories about other people and if talking about themselves, will often describe the situation in a belittling manner, which everyone can relate to (Tannen, 1990, 1992; Griffin, 2000). Listening Skills
Women are active listeners, which mean that when someone is talking to them, they will talk back, or nod to show they are listening, building a rapport with the speaker. Men on the other hand don’t say much at all. Men find it rude when someone talks while they are talking as this can be seen as a move to challenge ones position on the status ladder. Woman use nonverbal communication to show that they care about what the speaker has to say. With this said, women perceive a silent man during conversation as a man who isn’t interested and not listening. Asking Questions
Women in conversation will ask questions to show interest and agreement in the subject. Men on the other hand ask questions to query that the other person really knows what they are talking about. Tannen (1990) also approaches the issue of men’s reluctance to ask question in situation where they require assistance, as this action portrays him as being dependent on the person providing the information, thus lowering their status. Whereas women will happily ask for help such as getting directions from another individual who may know where a particular place is located. Conflict
According to Tannen, competition for status drives men; therefore they are more at ease with conflict. Men use conflict to determine their place in the pecking order. On the other hand “to most women, conflict is a threat to connection” (Tannen, 1990, p. 150). Tannen also goes on to say that women will do anything to avoid getting into a conflict. Metamessages Tannen (1990, 1992) describes metamessages as the unspoken or underlying messages contained in the actual message. These could be the tone in which the message is delivered and the non-verbal messages that are displayed by the speaker, such as gestures and facial expressions.
Application Parental Infuence To begin understanding my own relationship with my boyfriend, I believe that our different household environments and upbringings played a key role in how we engage in our communication as well as our conflicts. To reiterate, Koerner and Fitzpatrick (1997, 2002) stated that how a person’s family deals with conflict is often predictive of how they will deal with conflict in their own relationships. I was raised in a traditional household filled with dissatisfaction, silence and verbal abuse which in turn conditioned me to become overly emotional or cold-hearted with no emotion during conflict.
There typically is no in between in these two temperaments. I assume I acquired my father’s qualities of dominance, stubbornness, and need to be right. On the contrary, I also emotionally shut down completely and become silent which reflects the attributes that I saw in my mothers. My boyfriend grew up in an egalitarian household where open communication was a key factor to everyday life of a big family. In times of conflict, he always wants to get to the core of the problem and just fix it. However, it my defense, there is always so much more to a conflict than what is at the core.
The Situation A conflict about diet that my boyfriend and I once had is a good example of what Tannen (1990) refers to in her theory as genderlect styles. We got into an argument because my boyfriend had decided he would start a diet to get himself back into shape before his ten year high school reunion. When I asked about his unusual choice of food (tuna salad and a grilled piece of chicken) one day at lunch, he simply replied that he was going on a diet. He continued on to suggest that it may be nice to do something together such as this diet.
Before my boyfriend could finish what was saying, I was infuriated and started to make comments about what we both looked like when we first dated and how he was the only one whose weight had changed drastically for the worse. To say the least, the rest of the lunch was eaten I silence as well as the ride home. Throughout that day, my boyfriend tried to figure out what had happened and what he had done so wrong. At the end of the night before I went home, he asked me what he had done wrong or said because he had no idea why I was so upset. This conflict leads to the key points that Tannen highlights in her Genderlect Theory.
Applying Genderlect First, to recap, genderlect is the term used by Em Griffin (2000) to label Deborah Tannen’s theory of “cross-cultural communication” which describes communication between men and women. She argues that men and women have two completely different styles of communicating which leads to miscommunication and conflict in intimate relationships. Applying Rapport verus Report This concept is broken up into women’s rapport and men’s report.
Tannen (1990) states, “for most women; the language of conversation is primarily a language of rapport: a way of establishing connections and negotiating relationships. On the other hand, Tannen refers to conversation for most men as a “primary means to preserve independence, and negotiate and maintain status in a hierarchical social order” (p. 77). So basically, status and connection are the primary goals driving men and women’s conversation styles. In the conflict I had with my boyfriend, I perceived his comment about us both dieting as a way of calling me fat. I felt as though he had been purposefully hurtful and uncaring about my feelings. However; he had no intention of doing either.
He had really only meant to say that he wanted to get back in shape because he did not feel good about his image and especially his health. We both have been athletes all of our lives and enjoy playing sports, doing outdoor activities and exercising. However, with our incredibly busy schedules, neither of us has been able to be physically active which we both love. So his comment about both of us dieting and getting in shape was just an idea to spend some time together doing something to better our health and overall lives. Applying Tannen’s Concept of Conflict
The fact that I had made cruel comments and proceeded to give him the silent treatment after our conflict was not the right route to take. On the topic of conflict, Tannen says that women will do anything to avoid conflict; I did avoid conflict by giving my boyfriend the silent treatment; however, I exploded on him first. My boyfriend did try to figure out what he done wrong throughout the day because he did not know what he done wrong. Tannen states that competition for status drives men; therefore they are more at ease with conflict.
My boyfriend was definitely more calm and collective when I exploded on him and did not proceed to make matters worse by arguing with me at lunch. He wanted to take the role of being the better person and find a solution. Applying the Concept of Metamessages Furthermore, my boyfriend did not mean to offend me nor did he expect me to get mad by his comment. His comment was concise and to the point of what he meant; he wanted to start getting healthy and making better choices with diet and exercise. However, I perceived his message completely wrong because I heard another message which was that I was fat.
Tannen (1990, 1992) describes this as metamessages which is the unspoken or underlying messages contained in the actual message. Since I was somewhat already irritated with my boyfriend because he chose to go out with his friends the night before than watch movies at home with me; I felt as though he did not care about me (which is not true) so I took his comment to an extreme of an underlying message. Future Relationship Maintenance Tannen gives insight to what occurred in my conflict with my boyfriend. The differences of how we communicate are important to understanding each other.
The ‘‘I Said, You Said’’ exercise provides an example of such a technique, which begins by purposefully eliminating the use of visual non-verbal cues in the couple’s conversation patterns in order to focus on the verbal components of messages. Communication patterns in couples are crucial to helping couples gain awareness of the processes they use to communicate with each other. With Tannen’s genderlect styles and the practice of such communication exercises will help my boyfriend and I better understand each other as well as help avoid future communication conflicts.
Critique There were a couple strengths and weaknesses in my paper. Applying the Genderlect Theory to my topic of Commination Problems in Intimate Relationships was successful to an extent. Tannen’s key point on rapport and report proved to be significant in my research and application. The different styles of communication were highlighted when introduced to the application portion of the paper discussing the actual event of conflict. However, Tannen theory explains that women see conflict as a threat to connection with another person so they avoid it at all costs.
This is where I believe a weakness occurs because with experience, I assume women partake in conflict much more than men. This is based on the cattiness and issues of insecurities that women have with each other. If I was to suggest research for the future, I would pursue the issues about parental conflict styles which influence their children’s intimate conflict relationships later on in life. I believe that these influences have immense effect on how my boyfriend and I choose to act during conflicts. Conclusion
The fact that I grew up in a traditional household shaped my communication styles to be more difficult. Since am a woman, Tannen genderlect style applies to the way I communicate. With the two concepts understood, I realize that I have an issue with clear communication. So I need to work on listening as well as understanding that my boyfriend communicates differently than I do. Since he grew up in an egalitarian household, he has more positive attributes to resolving conflict and understanding that I perceive our communication differently.
I believe that we both need to work on our communication skills more when it comes to heated issues as well as taking into consideration each other’s feelings. By researching issues of relationships and applying what I learned to Tannen’s Genderlect Theory, I believe that my boyfriend and myself now have a greater chance at successful having a successful channel of communication and understanding.