You Just Don T Understand
Tannen?s book, “You Just Don?t Understand,” explains heterogeneous facts about men and women?s communication styles. Tannen says these gender differences are sorted out, men and women can recognize and understand how to confront real conflicts, rather than fighting styles. When men and women learn to accept the opposite sex?s conversational styles, they can learn to understand a shared language?where there is symmetry and negotiation of conflicts. It is important to recognize that these linguistic differences between men and women do not stem solely from what Tannen describes as “cross-cultural communication.” There are very apparent differences in speaking styles; for example, women tend to offer suggestions and give reasons, whereas men tend to give demands without reasons. However, the root of communication conflicts is really the result of the opposite natures of male and female. Tannen also shows how male-female communication has shaped the way human civilization has evolved.
It is the nature of men to be dominant, and it is the nature of women to be submissive; any revolt against these natures, will cause conflict amongst men and women. Tannen says, “If a man experiences life as a fight for freedom, he is naturally inclined to resist attempts to control him and determine his behavior”(p.152). Since male and female “natures” influence behavior and conversational styles, they play more of a significant role in communication than we may think; and evidence of this dates clear back to creation. The book of Genesis clearly defines God?s purpose for creating man and woman; God said man (created in the likeness of God) is to have dominion over all the earth and every living creature. Woman (created from man) is to multiply and be a companion for man. God intended there to be orderliness, which is why He designed men and women with very specific biological and psychological differences. These differences distinguish natures and determine male and female behaviors (Genesis 1:1-24). Men and women must not confuse “nature” with behavior; although nature influences behavior, men and women have “free-will” and must choose how they will act within these natures.
Just because a man tends to be aggressive, does not mean that it is acceptable for him to punch someone?s lights out. In other words, men and women must not make “nature” the excuse for poor behavior. The story of Adam and Eve describes the distinction between “free-will” and nature. As the story goes, Satan weakens Eve with wisdom and then tricks her into eating from the tree of life. Although this parable depicts Eve as “weak” or easily persuaded, the lesson is that Eve made a choice, she clearly understood that God did not want her to eat the forbidden fruit. Eve allowed her submissive nature to overpower her. This is why God said: A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. Adam was not deceived, it was woman who was deceived and became a sinner (1Timothy 2:11-14). These verses were deliberately used to enlighten a very important metamessage of how women are perceived?weak, manipulative, and overruled by emotion; therefore, incapable of ruling man?who is just the opposite?strong, dominate and in control. Historically, until the separation of church and government, law mandated these teachings. Although we may have shirked the biblical roles of men and women, these “metamessages” have carried over into conversational styles and behavioral differences between men and women today.
Men and women need to understand direct and indirect language styles; otherwise, “metamessages” will distort communication and lead men and women to dead ends (polarized positions)?where communication stops and perception takes over. In this cycle, men and women snare relationships in a never-ending loop of conflict and communication breakdown (complimentary schismogenesis). Tannen?s excerpt illustrates an example of a metamessage gone awry: “A man might say, “Will you please go to the store?” Whereas, a woman might say, “Gee, I really need a few things from the store, but I?m too tired.” To a woman, this communication style invites response and creates connection; it also reflects the submissive nature of women. Men however, perceive this indirectness as a linguistic strategy women use to manipulate. In addition, men translate indirectness to mean weak and powerless; and then associate the same view to women?s behavior?women do not have the backbone to ask for what they want, therefore, women are weak and powerless.
Tannen says, “Women may not feel they have the right to ask directly” (p.225). Tannen referenced several linguistic studies of young girls and boys interacting with one another. In those studies, Tannen observed that girls have the same suggestive approaches in conversational styles as women, and that boys have similar demanding language styles as men. The girls in this study, made proposals; i.e. “Lets wash our hands”; and offered valid reasons for their proposals, i.e. “We will get germs, if we don?t wash our hands.” Tannen says Researchers have found that girls of all ages, including women, make proposals for actions by using the words “Lets” and “We.” These very words imply harmony and community. Because of the emphasis that women and girls place on relationships and intimacy, status and power are not important. Therefore, yielding to suggestions does not mean that the individual person making the suggestion has more power. The number one objective amongst the girls was obvious: “I want to be liked by everyone.” In further studies, Tannen discovered that boys view compliance as submission. The boys would argue and fight, some boys even shoved or hit, if they did not agree with the other boys. Unlike the girls, the boys gave orders and stated desires, but would not give reasons for their demands. Their communication styles typically consisted of words like: “Give me that.” I.e., “I need that hammer right now.” By refusing to give reasons for their demands, Tannen says, the boys are reinforcing their orders as moves in a contest; and in this case, withholding information is a form of control to maintain the one-up position.
In comparison, Tannen says that men view life as a contest in which he must compete with others for seniority and status, or the one-up position. In this frame of thinking, Tannen says, men and boys are more concerned with displaying their knowledge to gain superiority; therefore, receiving information, especially from a woman, is considered a one-down position. The attitude here is: “I must never submit?because leaders are not told what to do?leaders tell people what to do.” Tannen restores this misconception by saying: If you get your way as a result of having demanded it, the payoff is satisfying in terms of status: You?re one-up because others are doing as you told them. But if you get your way because others happened to want the same thing, or because they offered freely, the payoff is in rapport. You?re neither one-up or one-down, but happily connected to others whose wants are the same as yours (p. 225). I have applied Tannen?s theories to my own communication in hopes to enhance a shared language when talking to my family/ Even with the most careful wording and best intentions?My family has to decode my language style to mean: “You are stating an opinion you think is right, therefore, you think you say is right.” I myself have been guilty of making proposals and suggestions?which in turn, causes my family members to become angry. My mother says, “Why can?t you just ask for what you want?” I have a problem with asking directly?to me, this communication style implies control and does not offer the listener a choice. I noticed that I only use direct language approaches when I am angry. I refer to this as the “last resort communication.” In addition to this, I use the word “Why” habitually. Children respond very well to this communication style, whereas my parents tell me not to second guess their decision and do what they say. Tannen says that men are not far off the mark when they interpret “Lets” or “We” as a command. These words are really a way of getting someone to do something, without actually telling them to do it. Yet, women are right because they are not trying to force a man to do something against his will.
What happens next is resistance, Tannen says, “Men are inclined to resist even the slightest hint that anyone, especially a woman, is telling them what to do” (p.31). Women however, are inclined to do what is asked of them. Tannen says the solution to the clash of conversational styles is for men and women to understand each other as individuals, rather than applying their own views and standards onto eachother. Men and women should not try to change the other person, instead, they should try to learn and understand the differences in communication styles. If a man and woman automatically respond to gender styles with conflict, chances are they are responding to “metamessages”; but, if a man and women respond with negotiation, then there will be true communication. Nothing hurts relationships more than misconstrued perceptions (metamessages). These perceptions lead men and women to wrongful accusations and misplaced blame. Tannen says, understanding gender conversational styles will lift the smoke of blame, and clear our view to the real issues.
Trying to settle problems by talking, without understanding gender communication styles, will only increase frustration levels in relationships, especially since the ways of talking are causing the trouble in the first place. If men and women simply learn to accept, and recognize different styles of communication, they will learn to communicate in a shared language?where there is symmetry and negotiation of conflicts. References Tannen, Deborah.
You Just Don?t Understand. New York: Ballantine Books. (1990). NIV Bible. Michigan:
Zondervan Bible Publishers.