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 Explanations > Gender > Genderlect

Connection and status | Emotion and rapport | Private and public | Listening and interrupting | Jokes and stories | Conflict | See also


Deborah Tannen coined the term 'Genderlect' to describe the way that the conversation of men and women are not right and wrong, superior and inferior -- they are just different.

A useful way of viewing this that she uses is that they are as different cultures. Thus, as a Japanese and French person conversing would take account of each others different cultural styles, so also should men and women understand and take account of the very real differences of the other.

Connection and status

The fundamental difference that drives much other behavior is that women have a deep drive to seek connection, whilst men have a deep drive to seek status.

Of course there are other goals that men and women seek. Nevertheless, these are a significant source of difference.

Emotion and rapport

In seeking connection, In seeking status, men will avoid intangibles that may be challenged and prefer 'solid' facts.

To create rapport and connection, women will talk more about feelings, relationships and people. They will include more emotional elements in their talk and will encourage others to do the same. For example, they will use emphasized intensifiers such as 'so' and 'such' ('I was so happy', 'He is such an idiot').

In seeking status, men will tend avoid emotion as a sign of weakness, unless they are using in an way that does not expose them to attack. They prefer facts and taking objective positions and will tend to 'tell' others, taking an authoritative or expert stance that puts them above others and discourages interruption.

Private and public

Women talk more in private conversations, using talk as a way of gaining rapport and connection with others. In public, there is less opportunity for creating individual relationships and so they may talk less. They may also be drowned out by the men.

Men talk more when in a public forum, where their audience has the power to recognize them and give them the status they seek. The public stage brings out their competitive instinct and they will vie with other men to be top dog.

Listening and interrupting

Women will listen just to create empathy as well as to find hooks by which to connect better to the other person. They will listen carefully and attentively for a long period without interrupting. Where they do interrupt it is to show support or to ask questions to better understand the other person.

Men, on the other hand use interruption as a power play by which they can grab attention and demonstrate status. In a male-dominated business meeting, when the boss interrupts, others will immediately allow this to happen. Men will avoid asking questions as this exposes their limitations and hands back control to the other person.

Men's conversations will thus tend to jump around different topics as they compete to take the lead, whilst women will allow a conversation to go on for a long time in order to achieve greater relationship depth.

Jokes and stories

A way of talking about people whilst avoiding emotional embroilment is to either tell detached stories or to use humor that trivializes and/or separates. Men thus tend to use jokes more and use stories, particularly in a third-person objective style. When they put themselves in their stories, they are the heroes and intellectuals, solving complex problems, leading the charge and saving the day. In jokes, they can put others down and hence raise their own status.

In women's stories, they are more often the victims. They will tell about how they and others have been emotionally hurt. This creates more empathetic connection with their audience.


Conflict, for a woman, is a process whereby connections are reduced, and so they will work hard to avoid them.

Men, on the other hand, will use conflict as a short-cut to gaining status. A short, sharp fight quickly establishes the hierarchical order that they prefer, establishing who has more status and position.

Thus, when given an order, women will be more likely to comply than a man, who (especially if status levels are unclear) may well challenge back. Men thus initiate far more conflict than women.

See also

Emotions, Goals, Values

Deborah Tannen, You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation, Perennial Currents, 2001

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