Getting Heard, get on with it

Linda Kingsbury lab_sakano at
Thu Feb 1 17:10:03 EST 1996

In article <4eecad$8im at>, Sarah L. Pallas
<spallas at> wrote:
  I also talked to one of the offenders
> and asked him why he seemed not to be hearing me.  He in fact said that I
> tend to talk with an upward inflection on the end of my statements, which
> made him tune them out, thinking I wasn't requiring a reply or that I was
> asking another question, and not answering the one he had raised.  I
> don't know if this is a particular habit of women but it might be.  In my
> case I think it's because I'm from Minnesota and we all talk like that,
> it's considered rude to make bold statements, and the lilt of the
> Scandinavian accent compromises the forcefulness of speech.  So now I am
> working on requiring an answer back to my statements, and making them
> statements, not questions.
> Another interesting topic would be:  why do female scientists need to
> adopt 'male' ways of speaking, etc., to get heard, why can't the men
> learn to hear us just as we've learned to hear them?

My short answer would be, because the men's revolution is years and years
behind the women's.

Deborah Tannen discusses some of the differences in speaking styles, such
as upward inflection at the ends of sentences, in her book _You just don;t
understand_.  Her thesis is that women and men (as groups) talk for
different purposes.  In general, many men think of relationships in terms
of hierarchy, and interacting with others as always leaving one either
"one-up" or "one-down".  Thus speaking, for example, is more competitive
and the speaker is always attempting to prove himself -- thus trying to
appear more confident and knowledgeable than he may really be.  (I think
many women are aware of this system of thought among men, and some of us
look down on it as being selfish and immature, where we might do better to
just accept it as a "cultural difference."  On the other hand, because we
are aware of this system and its effect on our promotions, etc. many of us
try to adapt to this system, and books have been written on how to do
this.)  In contrast, Tannen suggests that women (in general) tend to think
of relationships as connections between equals and prefer to avoid
situations in which one person stands out as superior to another.  Thus a
person who has an especially good idea might cloak that idea in speech
that encourages others to agree and contribute.  I think many men are not
yet perceptive of this, and miss the fact that there is a great idea
hidden amongst all the diplomatic speech.  So in a way, the men (as a
group) have further to go than the women do, because they are not even
aware of the cultural differnces.  The next question is, what, if
anything, can we do to (help? force?) them to learn about our cultural

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