Understanding Relationships – Who Talks More? Male, Female Differences 


By Gary Moore 

Who talks more, women or men? According to the stereotype, women talk too much. Throughout history, women have been punished for talking too much or in the wrong way. According to linguist Connie Eble, a variety of physical punishments were used in Colonial America on women who talked too much. 

Though such institutionalized corporal punishments have given way to informal, often psychological ones, modern stereotypes are not much different from those expressed in the old proverbs. Women are believed to talk too much. Yet study after study finds that it is men who talk more – at meetings, in mixed-group discussions, and in classrooms where girls or young women sit next to boys or young men. 

Who really does talk more: women or men? The seemingly contradictory evidence is reconciled by the difference between what Deborah Tannen (internationally recognized linguistics professor at Georgetown University) calls public and private speaking. More men feel comfortable doing “public speaking,” while more women feel comfortable doing “private” speaking. In other words, report-talk, and rapport-talk. 

For most women, the language of conversation is primarily a language of rapport: a way of establishing connections and negotiating relationships. Emphasis is placed on displaying similarities and matching experiences. From childhood, girls criticize peers who try to stand out or appear better than others. 

For most men, talk is primarily a means to preserve independence and negotiate and maintain status in a hierarchical social order. This is done by exhibiting knowledge and skill, and by holding center stage through verbal performance such as storytelling, joking, or imparting information. From childhood, men learn to use talking as a way to get and keep attention. 

Studies have shown that if women and men talk equally in a group, people think the women talked more. Dr. Tannen says that men think women talk a lot because they hear women talking in situations where men would not: on the telephone; or in social situations with friends, when they are not discussing topics that men find inherently interesting; or, at home alone – in other words, in private speaking. 

Home is the setting for the American stereotype that features the silent man and the talkative woman. The complaint most often voiced by women about the men with whom they are intimate is “He doesn’t talk to me” – and the second most frequent is “He doesn’t listen to me.” 

Sources as lofty as studies conducted by psychologists, as down to earth as letters written to advice columnists, and so sophisticated as movies and plays come up with the same insight: Men’s silence at home is a disappointment to women. Again and again, women complain, “He seems to have everything to say to everyone else, and nothing to say to me.” 

The film “Divorce American Style” opens with a conversation in which Debbie Reynolds is claiming that she and Dick Van Dyke don’t communicate. And he is protesting that he tells her everything that’s on his mind. The doorbell interrupts their quarrel, and husband and wife compose themselves before opening the door to greet their guests with cheerful smiles. 

Behind closed doors, many couples are having conversations like this. Like the character played by Debbie Reynolds, women feel men don’t communicate. Like the husband played by Dick Van Dyke, men feel wrongly accused. How can she be convinced that he doesn’t tell her anything, while he is equally convinced he tells her everything that’s on his mind? How can women and men have such different ideas about the same conversations? 

When something goes wrong, people look around for a source to blame: either the person they are trying to communicate with (“You’re demanding, stubborn, self-centered”) or the group that the other person belongs to (“All women are demanding”; “All men are self-centered”). Some generous-minded people blame the relationship (“We just can’t communicate”). But underneath, or overlaid on these types of blame cast outward, most people believe that something is wrong with them. 

If individual people or particular relationships were to blame, there wouldn’t be so many different people having the same problems. Dr. Tannen says the real problem is conversational style. Women and men have different ways of talking. Even with the best intentions, trying to settle the problem through talk can only make things worse if it is ways of talking that are causing the problem in the first place. 

That’s why mutual understanding in this area is so critical. Without this understanding, you’ll make assumptions and assign motives that are wrong and thus exacerbate the problem. You’ll find The MUM 3 Step Connection Plan of great assistance in this area. You can check it out at my website, www.mutualunderstanding.net. 

Not right or wrong – just different, by design. 

Gary Moore served as associate pastor at Cloverdale Church of God for 15 years. He does couples’ coaching and leads couples’ workshops and retreats called MUM’s the Word. He has a weekly radio program – Life Point Plus – on KBXL 94.1FM at 8:45 a.m. on Fridays. His website at www.mutualunderstanding.net has video teachings and other resources for couples. He may be contacted at [email protected]. 


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