Conversation style is a tacit dimension of communication. Tannen argued that the way of talking seems to be ritualized. In the cultural context we grow up in, people learned a certain pattern of reaction to a certain stimuli. In this way, our way of talking becomes automatic and ritualized. This conversation style play significant role in both our personal life and in the workplace. Gender is a correlate of conversation style, and differences in men’s and women’s styles can cause various problems in the workplace.
Tannen discussed how goffman put forward the term ‘genderism’ to explain gendered behaviors. Although not every female or male follow the gendered pattern of behaving, it is followed by most people. Specifically, Tannen argues that there are important difference between males and female with regards to the ways of asking for help when they encounter difficulties. Females are more likely to admit their ignorance and ask for help, whereas males tend to hide their ignorance and try to figure things out by themselves. The mechanism underlying the difference is that males believe ignorance is a humiliation to them, thus they try not to admit they do not know the answers to their problems. Males try not to show lack of knowledge and skills, because showing ignorance might make them go down in a ‘power level’.
At the same time, males and females have different views on the different approaches of solving problems. Females believe that asking for help would save time and troubles, whereas males believe that finding the directions on themselves are more beneficial because they learned how to solve the problems. However, males’ way of handling difficulties might have severe negative consequences. Tannen gave examples of male pilot reject to ask for help when they are actually lost, and there were crashes caused by this. It is thoughts-provoking that the author did not criticize men’s way, but she argued that we need to better understand the differences in the styles and be aware of the alternatives. On the other hand, asking questions might also bring negative consequences. The author’s example of a female intern asked many questions to a male supervisor demonstrate that asking questions in public situations suggests lack of knowledge. Spending more time and effort to figure out a question sometimes is a better way because we do not show our ignorance in public.
Tannen’s observation is very interesting and thoughts-provoking. However, she did not offer convincing theoretical explanations on the issue. It is interesting that she pointed out that the different styles of asking for help runs counter to stereotypes about men and women. The author only explained this from the perspective of focusing on information or focusing on sensitive. However, she did not take into consideration of the context. Although males focus on information and females focus on sensitive in general, this might not generalize to specific behaviors such as asking for help. In this situation, people’s self-image might play a more important role. For example, women tend to be more socially oriented, whereas men tend to maintain a self image of toughness. Women’s social skills and prosoical character might one of the critical explanations of their conversation style. As sociological research have repeatedly demonstrate that gender plays salient roles in various social and psychological differences in men and women, the author should have taken into consideration of various sociological, psychological, and anthropological theories in explaining the phenomenon she observed. In particular, further psychological research might offer more insights on why the difference exists and how it works in different situations.