January 28th, 2008


Deborah Tannen observations

Over the last few months I've been reading books by Deborah Tannen. I picked up the first one, Gender and Discourse a collection of her scholarly essays, since it was being sold off cheap from the works library. Since I work in a group where the majority is male, and I moderate a lot of design reviews, I thought it might be useful background reading. I did find it very interesting, and went on to read two of her mainstream books, The Argument Culture (the theory of discourse always being set up as confrontation, particularly in the media) and You just don't understand (gender differences in discussion).

I like that she approaches her subjects with the emphasis on observation, and is not an 'expert' who claims to have all the answers. At the end of You just don't understand which is geared towards relationships, she makes the point that people can change their conversational styles, but people usually want the other gender to change their's not change their own. So sensitivity training tries to get men to talk more like women, and assertiveness training gets women to talk more like men. Her observation is that the most useful progress can be made in 'interpreting' other people's style, without the judgement that the style is 'wrong' because it isn't your own.