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Communication Styles

We commonly interpret other people as being abnormal, weird, or wrong when they do or say things that we do not understand. Such misunderstanding is a cause not only of divorce, but of wars. Consequently, it is vital that we learn to control the human tendency to translate different from me" into "less than me" or "better than me." We can learn to do this. Investigating the differences in the ways people communicate is one of the primary ways to avoid this type of misunderstanding.

One's own culture provides the "lens" through which we view the world; the "logic" . . . by which we order it; the "grammar" . . . by which it makes sense. —Kevin Avruch, Peter Black, and Joseph Scimecca

Heredity and environment play a huge role in our communication patterns and our language development; consequently, they affect our ability to relate to others. Communication styles differ greatly.

Linguist and author Deborah Tannen, speaking within the American cultural context, claims that men and women speak different languages because they live in different worlds. Like other communication specialists, Tannen observes that men in general (there are always many exceptions) use conversation to give information and to compete. They talk about things - business, sports, and food - rather than people. They are concerned with facts, and less likely to elaborate the details. They are goal-oriented. Solving problems is important to men. Why men are less likely to ask for help or directions has long been an enigma to women. Women in general (again, with many individual differences) use conversation to get information and to connect. They talk about people more than things and are easy with expressing the mood, or feelings, associated with a situation. Their speech patterns are more detail oriented. Relationships are key for many women. They are quicker to ask for and accept help or directions and are more likely to cooperate.*

* Tannen, D., You Just Don't Understand: Men and Women in Conversation (Quill, 2001).

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