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Ross Whittaker

COMM 1050-9
Gender Conversation Styles
Communication between men and women can be tricky. Men will say things like all she
wants to do is talk and women in return will ask why does he never talk to me? Other
common problems are Why is she always talking about somebodys problems? and He
always tells me what to do. These are examples of two conversation styles in Deborah Tannens
Genderlics theory called Private versus Public and Troubles versus Fix-It Talk. In these
conversation styles the women tend to talk in private more and use the troubles in their lives
are connection pointswhereas the men talk more in public and focus on solving problems. I
have observed these conversation styles in my own relationship with my girlfriend, Josie, and in
this paper I will show you what I have observed.
I believe that our relationship follows the genderlics theory and shows how I speak more
in public and task-oriented versus Josies private and troubles oriented style of conversation. In
this paper I will analyze the differences in communication style, experiences, and power in our
relationship and the strategies each of us use to cope with our differences.
Josie is my girlfriend and has been for many years now. We started as best friends in our
childhood and very slowly developed into something more. Neither one of us has our own living
arrangements so we still live separately at home with our parents. My relationship with Josie has
been longer than most at my age of nineteen. This like any long standing relationship wouldnt
have lasted if we werent able to adjust to each others conversation styles.
The two conversation styles I will be focusing on are Private versus Public and Troubles
Talk versus Fix-It Talk. Private versus public talk is where women feel they need to hold back all
of their personal comments in a work environment until they are in a private setting, whereas
men feel they are required to talk or even compete for ascendancy in public and can finally take a
break when in private. Emory Griffin, a communications professor at Wheaton College, agrees
that [i]n the public arena, men vie for ascendancy and speak much more than women
do(Griffin, 334). These two mindsets clash when couples are together at the end of the workday
and the woman wants to talk about everything shes been keeping to herself but the man wants to
relax and not think about work.
Troubles versus Fix-It talk can be described as when women talk about troubles they are
creating a conversation that can be empathized with and men look at the same events as a
challenge to offer advice and fix the problem. These conversation styles work better when
talking to someone of the same gender. Women choose conversation topics based on what is
relatable and will respond with experiences that provide empathy to that experience. Men on the
other hand when talking with each other will talk about subjects that pose a problem and
responses will be geared to solve the problem.
When couples talk the Troubles versus Fix-It conversation style can cause a problem for
understanding and enjoyment of the conversation. While the woman is trying to relate an
experience in the work day about her coworker, the man might be thinking what caused this
negative event and how can we avoid it happening in the future? and ultimately why is it my

problem? The woman doesnt really want a solution she wants to talk about something that will
start a conversation that both of them can be a part of.
In our time together we have had cases where public and private as well as troubles and
fix-it talk have come into play. We have experienced conflicts and communication barriers in
relation to the conversation styles of private versus public and troubles versus fix-it. Josie and I
have worked together at the same company for a couple of summers now and I have noticed that
I talk a lot more to my coworkers than she does. Josie calls me a social butterfly but that goes
against my personal opinion that I am a shy person. At work I feel that it is necessary to talk to
people to keep up our spirits and because its a formality. Im usually the one to say how are
you and how is your day? first because I know people expect it.
On the other hand Josie doesnt ever talk to anyone unless they initiate the conversation. I
know she has friends at work but I hardly ever see her sitting with someone in the break-room
and instead see her with a book and feet up to take the opposite bench. Unless its someone she
really enjoys working with or me the response to the how are you? question is good and that
is all.
When we are together in private or in a non-work setting then the roles are reversed. I am
usually quiet and reserved while she is talking with friends and family. When alone conversation
towards me is how has your day been? and I will reply that it was fine. I dont feel like there is
anything memorable about my day but she still wants to know everything that might be
interesting. In this case I am much more outgoing and talkative in public but reserved in private
but Josie is the opposite where she is reserved in public and is able to let go in private. This
illustrates the private versus public conversation style of the Genderlics theory.
In a typical day where Josie and I are relaxing and browsing social media when I start a
conversation it usually is about something that has happened and has changed the way something
works. For example I will talk about new technology and how the old system worked and what
was wrong with it, and then introduce the new and how it fixed the previous problems. Josie
usually talks about events and whats going on in our lives. I believe this is purely about
establishing a connection to my life rather than a way to engage a topic.
Occasionally we have a communication breakdown where a complaint is offered like
Im tired and my response is then go to sleep but what she is really looking for is a way to
vent out what is causing stress in her day. Cynthia Bruggraf Torppa of Ohio State university
explains that women may deal with their problems by sharing their feelings but this can be
frustrating to men who typically deal with problems by focusing on facts and seeking an
immediate solution(Torppa).
In troubles versus fix-it talk Josie is using her troubles or the troubles of others to build a
sympathetic connection and I am interpreting her intentions as problems that need help to be
resolved. This clash of style is a barrier to men and women understanding each other and is a
clear point in Tannens Genderlict theory.
In our relationship I believe that I have more power. Not because I demand that Im
always in charge and my decision winsin that regard I feel that we are equalbut because I
feel that Josie is always looking for ways to make me happy. She is selfless and always considers
me first. When I try to do the same we end up at a standstill trying to make the other do what
they want.

To fix this imbalance of power I believe we should consider the risks and rewards to each
solution. We could also tradeoff days that we go with one persons decision and the next day the
opposite persons. I can express my desire to use her suggestions and take a break from doing
everything my way.
With regards to the public versus private conversation style we are able to find a common
ground by redirecting the conversation towards each other when talking with another person. For
example if Im doing all the talking Ill bring up an event or ask for Josies opinion so she will
have a chance to speak her mind without feeling like shes intruding on the conversation. On the
other side when we are in private it is better to keep asking questions and expressing desire for
more detail so I will continue talking. When this occurs I have to keep in mind that she really just
wants to talk and I should indulge her request.
When listening to a story from Josie I need to remember that the conversation needs to be
two sided. Even if it is a narrative it needs to have feedback from me. This might be a challenge
because I tend to give the default responses. When I talk about new subjects Josies side of the
conversation could have in depth responses and interest in the subject.
I believe that if we steer the conversations so neither of us are left out and we actively
engage each others topics we will have better communication. Without adapting our
communication styles our conversations will be one sided and we will feel that the other isnt
committed to the relationship. Even with a coping strategy as simple as actively listening I think
our communication styles can be balanced.
Aside from the Genderlics theory I believe that the Coordinated Management of Meaning
(CMM) theory can be used to improve our communication. CMM can be described as in
conversations and through the messages we send and receive, people co-create meaning (West
& Turner, 94). Josie and I are in our own social reality, a persons beliefs of meaning in
interpersonal interaction, and in that reality we currently disagree on who should make the
decisions and who talks in our public and private settings.
With CMM we need to realize that our communication is in a charmed loop where the
rules of meaning are consistent throughout the loop(West & Turner, 101). By breaking this loop
and forming new rules we can avoid future conflicts. By changing the way we look at each
others narratives or sharing the focus of a conversation we can improve our communication.
In conclusion I find that men and women are very different in their communication styles
but can also come to a middle ground where everything is understood. It takes a special person to
realize thats just their way of communicating and you care about them enough to learn their
communication style to better understand and interact with them.
I believe that our differences in communication come in when we look at the public and
private talk and troubles versus fix-it talk. We can clash in our communication styles but we care
about one another enough to make an effort in changing the way we think.
Using Tannens genderlics theory and coordinated management of meaning theory we
can change our current meanings in our loop and learn each others conversation style. This will
help us communicate more fluidly and avoid awkward silences when attention is not given.

Work Cited
Griffin, Emory A. "Genderlect Styles of Deborah Tannen." A First Look at Communication
Theory. 8th Ed. Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill, 2012.
Torppa, Cynthia B. Gender Issues: Communication Differences in Interpersonal Relationships.
Ohio. Ohio State University, 2010.
West, Richard, and Lynn H. Turner. Introducing Communication Theory: Alalysis and
Application. 4th Ed. Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill, 2010