communication styles

Linda Kingsbury lab_sakano at
Thu Feb 22 17:05:34 EST 1996

 dr._margaret_martens at FTDETRCK-CCMAIL.ARMY.MIL wrote:

>      I agree with Sarah that not all men or all women communicate in the 
>      same way and that one cannot necessarily predict the behavior of any 
>      individual based solely on that person's gender.  Not only are there 
>      overlapping regions of the distribution curves, but we also tend to 
>      adapt our behavioral style to the situation at hand.  
>      However, I disagree that the generalizations arrived at in these male 
>      vs. female studies imply that because I am either male or female that 
>      I must, necessarily, behave in a particular way.  At least I have not 
>      taken those studies that way.  Rather, I think that they help us to 
>      better understand those whose communication style differs from our 
>      own.  I take this knowledge in much the same vein as the personality 
>      style or behavioral style analyses that one talks about in management 
>      training seminars.  That is, they are tools to use for increasing 
>      communication among people, not boxes for stereotyping them.  

"Sarah L. Pallas" <spallas at> wrote:
> I don't like the implication by Tannen and others that if I don't 
> communicate in a certain style, then I'm not a real woman, somehow.  I'm 
> sure that men also don't like the implication that ALL men communicate in 
> the same way.  My request is that when making generalizations, state that 
> they are generalizations, so you won't offend the tomboys and sensitive 
> men out there.  Communication (and other) behaviors do not always 
> segregate by gender.

I agree with Margaret.  I would like to point out that Tannen takes great
pains in her book to clearly state that her conclusions are
*generalizations*, and as such do not fit every individual in all

I certainly don't think that behaving in a non-stereotypically female way
is "unfeminine" (and I doubt Tannen would think so either).  Clearly there
are lots of women/men who don't fit many of Tannen's generalizations, and
an "ideal" example who fits all the stereotypes is impossible to find.  

Tannen also mentioned that her findings vary across cultures -- for
example, the "male" attitude about speaking may be different in Japan.  So
differences in speaking style may be culturally, not biologically based. 
When you consider for how long women's and men's spheres of life have been
separated, it is not surprising that some cultural differences have

So I think it's normal for someone who spends a lot of time working with
"stereotypical men" types to adopt some of their thinking and behavior.  I
certainly have to some extent.  Furthermore, I think that's probably a
good thing -- certainly useful in the short term at least.  I similarly
hope that all people (including "stereotypical men") will become
better-versed in the "female" cultural style.  It is useful to be able to
adopt whichever style best suits one's needs at the moment.  (Have you
observed bilingual people switch languages according to the attitude the
want the listener to adopt?)  Eventually the two cultures will probably
merge to some extent, but meanwhile it would be good if we could at least
recognize what's happening so we don't jump to wrong conclusions about
people's attitudes and motivations for speaking as they do.

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