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23 September 2014
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The art of conversation
what you think about conversation do's and don'ts
It has been suggested that men think logically, whilst women think emotionally. With neither understanding the other, is it any wonder that they have difficulty finding a middle ground? Conversation, like relationships, only works when people want it to and never fails when all parties actively work for success.
Gordon from Boston, UK

I believe that men are very easily distracted in conversation. One has to be talking about practical subjects for most men to take an interest. There is also the male who is always eyeing up other females (when shopping etc.) so he never concentrates on the one he's with. Men's practical approach usually creeps in when women are having an emotional moment, this makes one feel they don't care.
Sheilah K Watson

The annoyance caused by the misunderstandings between men and women in conversation because men try to offer solutions and women often offer sympathy or empathy is familar to me. Perhaps women could empathise with us poor men or offer us some sympathy rather than taking the hump! Oops I have offered a solution, damn!
Gordon, Dundee

I have noticed all the above on internet message boards as well as in audible conversation. Also, I have heard that women NEED more daily conversation than men, and this need is not comfortably met in the general picture given; so have I been given incorrect information, or is this a double-whammy?
Janet Georgiou. Wiltshire

Men seem to think that a women wants to be told what to do about a problem instead of just sympathising about it.
Janet Theobald from Swindon

Also on Voices
Classroom talk

In Your Area
What do you think about your local accent?
Talk about Voices in your area

Did You Know?
95% of people in Northern Ireland think of themselves as having a moderately strong accent, compared to only 63% of people in the east of England.
Voices poll results

Page 1 of 3
"You just don't listen!"
Why do people say 'like' every other word?
Isn't 'innit' ungrammatical?

"You just don't listen!" Why do men and women miscommunicate? by Philippa Law

Studies have shown time and time again that men and women have markedly different strategies for conversing - and can easily misunderstand each other. There are several excellent opportunities for an argument.

table top
play audio Listen to our feature on miscommunication between men and women. Viv Perry investigates

Are you listening?

Women tend to lean forward, nod and make eye contact when they're listening attentively. Men are more likely to lean back and shut their eyes. Since it looks suspiciously like men have chosen this particular moment to have a snooze, it's unsurprising that women think they're being ignored. Men understandably get annoyed when women try to prod them 'awake', since they had shut their eyes in order to be able to listen better.

Women say "M-hm," and "Yeah, yeah..." more often than men.

Hello? Did you hear a word I said?
'Minimal responses' mean simply "I'm listening", whereas men understand them as "I agree with you." The result is that when men hear "M-hm," they think the woman agrees with them, and it's infuriating when it turns out she doesn't. Naturally, when a woman doesn't hear "M-hm," she thinks the man isn't listening.

Women tend to acknowledge the previous speaker's comment in some way before making a contribution, while men tend to launch straight into their own point. In mixed conversation, this can make women feel like they've been completely ignored. Hello? Did you hear a word I said?

What did I say?!
When women mention a problem, other women respond by sympathising or sharing a similar problem of their own. It's reassuring, and creates a sense of 'solidarity' or closeness between them. Men's reaction to hearing a problem is more usually to offer a solution. Although this is well-meant and logical, unfortunately, this can sound to women like "I'm not interested in you or your trifling problem." The helpful man is suddenly seen as insensitive.

In a well-known example from Deborah Tannen (1991), a woman has had a lump removed from her breast, and is upset because the surgery has changed her shape. Her female friend sympathises: "I know. It's like your body has been violated," but her husband suggests: "You can have plastic surgery to cover up the scar tissue and restore the shape of your breast." The woman is comforted by her friend's pessimistic statement of the obvious, but hurt by her 'uncaring' husband.

Don't interrupt!
When women talk simultaneously, it's usually because one is reinforcing what the other is saying - a kind of 'active listenership'. Men don't often do this - they usually only talk at the same time as someone else if they're trying to interrupt them. So if a man is talking and a woman makes reinforcing comments, the man is likely to think she's not backing up what he's saying, but is trying to interrupt him. Grrr!

Men treat conversation as a competition to see who can talk most, whereas women's aim is to facilitate the flow of conversation. Women give chances to speak, while men take them. Neither tactic is inherently right or wrong; however, in mixed groups, the clash of styles can easily cause friction.

In mixed groups, women tend to 'facilitate' the conversation directly into the mouths of men. Particularly in formal settings such as meetings, debates and seminars, men talk much more often and at greater length than women. Women are left with the feeling that men have failed to allow them the opportunity to speak, whereas men think that women have failed to grasp the opportunity to speak.

Different voices
As a wild over-generalisation, you could say that men talk competitively and women talk co-operatively. In cross-gender conversation, women do everything to keep the conversation going - while men do all the shouting. It's no wonder we don't always get on.


Your Comments
Do you think men and women misunderstand each other?

Laura, Cambridge
I find it fascinating that the vast majority of people here have such strong notions about what is 'right' and 'wrong' in our language. Surely if we understand what is being said, it doesn't matter whether we say 'you and I' or 'you and me'. Neither are linguistically more advantageous (the french would never say 'toi et je') - it is an entirely social and therefore arbitrary distinction. Perhaps people need to think about the reasons why they have these prejudices. If enough people start saying 'innit', this word will probably, eventually, become as acceptable as 'isn't it' - an expression which i'm sure also caused great controversy at its conception. Yesterday's slang is today's standard so we need to learn to love it.

han s from the midlands
this is FUNNY!! why on earth are people getting so wound up about this!? language change is INEVITABLE!! meanings of words CHANGE! all the time! who cares whats more 'pleasing to the ear' or whether people use glottal stops instead of pronouncing the letter 't'?? if everybody spoke the same and used standard english and recieved pronunciation then what an old fashioned, dull and boring world we would be living in! and anyway, im sure there are more important things to be worrying about than if you replace the consanant cluster 'th' with 'f' or if t.v. presenters say 'gonna' not 'going to'.

Don LaFrance, USA
I agree with Anne Roberts, we Americans use the phrase "of off" to the point of distraction.

Bob, NY
It's rather distracting when the focus is on the speaker's "accent" rather than the subject of conversation. Ironically,many so-called "accent-free" individuals don't even speak grammatically correct English anyway.

kevin from Arizona
Why do English people say "at the end of the day" and "obviously" so much. It drives me nuts.

Find more of your thoughts here.

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