You Just Don't Understand Term Paper

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Deborah Tannen’s (1990) book, "You Just Don’t Understand," contains facts about men and women’s communication styles. Tannen says once these gender differences are sorted out, men and women can recognize and understand how to confront real conflicts, rather than fighting styles. When men and women learn to accept the opposite sex’s conversational styles, they can learn to understand a shared language—where there is symmetry and negotiation of conflicts. It is important to recognize that these linguistic differences between men and women do not stem solely from what Tannen describes as "cross-cultural communication." There are very apparent differences in speaking styles; for example, women tend to offer suggestions and give reasons, whereas men tend to give demands without reasons. However, the root of communication conflicts is really the result of the opposite natures of male and female. It is the nature of men to be dominant, and it is the nature of women to be submissive; any revolt against these natures, will cause conflict amongst men and women. Tannen says, "If a man experiences life as a fight for freedom, he is naturally inclined to resist attempts to control him and determine his behavior"(p.152). Since male and female "natures" influence behavior and conversational styles, they play more of a significant role in communication than we may think; and evidence of this dates clear back to creation. The book of Genesis clearly defines God’s purpose for creating man and woman; God said man (created in the likeness of God) is to have dominion over all the earth and every living creature. Woman (created from man) is to multiply and be a companion for man. God intended there to be orderliness, which is why He designed men and women with very specific biological and psychological differences. These differences distinguish natures and determine male and female behaviors (Genesis 1:1-24). Men and women must not confuse "nature" with behavior; although nature influences behavior, men and women have "free-will" and must choose how they will act within these natures. Just because a man tends to be aggressive, does not mean that it is acceptable for him to punch someone’s lights out. In other words, men and women must not make "nature" the excuse for poor behavior. Even with the most careful wording and best intentions—men might decode a language style to mean: "You are manipulating me, therefore, you are trying to control me." I myself have been guilty of making proposals and suggestions—which in turn, have caused some men in my life to become angry. Tannen (1990) says that men are not far off the mark when they interpret "Lets" or "We" as a command. These words are really a way of getting someone to do something, without actually telling them to do it. Yet, women are right because they are not trying to force a man to do something against his will. What happens next is resistance, Tannen says, "Men are inclined to resist even the slightest hint that anyone, especially a woman, is telling them what to do" (p.31). Women however, are inclined to do what is asked of them. Tannen (1990) states the solution to the clash of conversational styles is for men and women to understand each other as individuals, rather than applying their own views and standards onto each other. Men and women should not try to change the other person, instead, they should try to learn and understand the differences in communication styles. If a man and woman automatically respond to gender styles with conflict, chances are they are responding to "metamessages"; but, if a man and women respond with negotiation, then there will be true communication. Nothing hurts relationships more than misconstrued perceptions (metamessages). These perceptions lead men and women to wrongful accusations and misplaced blame. Tannen says, understanding gender conversational styles will lift the smoke of blame, and clear our view to the real issues. Trying to settle problems by talking, without understanding gender communication styles, will only increase frustration levels in relationships, especially since the forms of communication is causing the trouble in the first place. If men and women simply learn to accept, and recognize styles differences, they will learn to communicate in a shared language—where there is symmetry and negotiation of conflicts.


Tannen, Deborah. (1990). You Just Don’t Understand. New York: Ballantine Books. (1908). NIV Bible. Michigan: Zondervan Bible Publishers.

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