Go ahead, take a silent vote in your head. Did you say, “Women?” Does that mean you side with a stereotype? Evidence suggests most people do. If you do, it also just might make you wrong- at least looking at talk overall. It’s all a matter of context and conversational style.
Let’s get the elephant in the room right out in the open at the outset. Women are often perceived as the talkers. People often feel we talk too much.
Check out these proverbs quoted by linguist Sandra Lee McKay:
- A woman’s tongue wags like a lamb’s tail. (England)
- Foxes are all tail and women are all tongue. (England)
- The North Sea will sooner be found wanting in water than a woman be at a loss for a word. (Jutland)
- All the Daddys on the bus go read, read, read…All the Mummies on the bus go chatter, chatter, chatter (British children’s song)
Men Perceive Women as Talking More Than They Do
According to one study, students were asked to evaluate their perception of who talked more in a given discussion. While women were pretty accurate, men estimated that the amount of talk between men and women was “equal” when women talked only 15% of the time, and they perceived the discussion to be dominated by women if they talked only 30% of the time. Other studies have shown that when women and men talk equally in a group, people think the women talked more (Tannen, p. 77).
Compounding studies show that men talk more in meetings, mixed-group discussions, and mixed gender classrooms. Take a look at this study done by communications researchers Barbara and Gene Eakins quoted by Deborah Tannen. After recording seven university faculty meetings and analyzing the data,
“They found that, with one exception, men spoke more often and, without exception, spoke for a longer time. The men’s turns ranged from 10.66 to 17.07 seconds, while the women’s turns ranged from 3 to 10 seconds. In other words, the women’s longest turns were still shorter than the men’s shortest turns. p.75
In another study, Marjorie Swacker recorded question-answer sessions at academic conferences and found that even though women presented 40.7 % of the papers and made up 42% of the audience, they contributed only 27.4% of the questions during the questions asked. They also took less than half of the time men did to ask a question when they did venture one: 23.1 seconds for women verses 52.7 for men. Men “tended to preface their questions with statements, ask more than one question, and follow up the speaker’s answer with another question or comment” (p 76).
So, hands down, when men and women are talking in a public setting, men out-stride the women in conversation by a long shot.
Report-Talk verses Rapport-Talk
I like the way linguist Deborah Tannen contrast the main difference between male and female conversation domination. It resides in the type of talk being done. She refers to the types as public verses private speaking or report-talk verses rapport-talk.
Women often use communication for the purpose of building connections and working out relationships. In conversations with their closest friends and family, they feel at home no matter where they are (public or private), and they talk a lot, usually matching experiences.
Men often use their words for the purpose of protecting their independence and enforcing their status. This might sound negative, but it’s not- it’s an issue of respect. They exhibit their expertise in talk by passing on information, telling jokes, telling stories, and offering insight.
A Difference at the Heart of When and Why We Talk
So, it all boils down to basically- in public, men talk more. In private, women talk more. Men talk in settings and ways women wouldn’t. Women talk about topics and in situations men wouldn’t. Women might say- “Wow, he’s arrogant, showing off about what he know!” and men might say, “She’s a big mouth, blabbing things meant to be kept secret!” In reality, it is just a difference at the heart of when and why we talk.
Why Won’t He Talk To Me?
This is often the cry of women who feel lonely at home. If those they love love them back, then surely they will share their experiences and feelings about what happens in life. But men come home exhausted from communicating on the stage of public talk, and they are ready now to rest with the woman they love- keeping talk at a minimal. After all, that is the epitome of rest, right? Nice and quiet.
When their wives venture to establish a connection with their husbands by sharing thoughts and experiences from the daily grind (whether they work outside or inside the home- or both), husbands often feel they are being asked to solve a problem. When they offer a solution rather than an empathetic word of understanding and comfort, women often get angry. The one they love the most isn’t responding lovingly- they aren’t connecting and engaging! And then the men feel disrespected by her response or her later lack of application of his advice- he solved everyone else’s problems all day and now they are sacrificing their rest to solve their wife’s problem and she isn’t a bit grateful!
It’s all a big misunderstanding about why and when we talk about what.
Offer Understanding to the Opposite Gender
Understanding each other goes a long way to deepening our relationships with those we care about that are the opposite gender from us. It helps if we put a halt to an violent, angry reaction when conversations don’t go our way and realize-
- He is trying to show me love by solving my problem. He is being honorable as a provider and protector.
- She is trying to show me respect by involving me in her day and connecting with me about mine. She is being loving and respectful.
I’ve seen this concept of rapport-talk verses report-talk to be true in my own marriage. What about you? How have you seen this to be true? Not everyone falls into categories like this- so how have you seen it not to be true? Please share in the comments.