“Sex, Lies and Conversation” by Deborah Tannen

“Sex, Lies and Conversation” by Deborah Tannen

A close reading of “Sex, Lies and Conversation” by Deborah Tannen reveals to us how differently men and women perceive conversation in their relationships. “Most wives want their husbands to be, first and foremost, conversational partners, but few husbands share this expectation of their wives(403)”. Tannen describes how differences in communication start in childhood socialization. By sharing secrets and feelings, girls and women build intimacy in their relationships. For women, as for girls, intimacy is the fabric of relationships(404)”. And conversation is the “cornerstone of friendship(404)”. Whereas young boys build relationships by doing things together. Boys tend to hang out in larger groups so most “struggle to avoid the subordinate position in the group(404)”. Intimate conversations tend to be like a form of weakness for boys and men because it makes them feel inferior or “like a child listening to adults or an employee to a boss(404)”.

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Tannen studied video tapes from her own research and experiments, as well as from other colleagues, of young children and adults talking to their same sex best friends. Within all ages, she concluded that the girls and women faced each other with direct eye contact but the boys and men wouldn’t face each other but would glance back at each other every now and then. When men aren’t giving the women that same direct eye contact, the women assume that the men aren’t even paying attention. the tendency of men to face away can give women the impression they aren’t listening even when they are(405)”. Another habit that Tannen describes in her essay is the switching of topics. “Switching topics is another habit that gives women the impression men aren’t listening, especially when they switch ti a topic about themselves(405)”. When it comes to women in conversation, they’ll ask probing questions, exert general concern, and express agreement and understanding.

Men dismiss each others problems very simply and change the subject. She also goes on to explain how women will finish each others sentences or overlap each other, which to mean can be very annoying. “Participatory listener-ship(406)” is what this is referred to. All of these differences are just a little clarification as to why men and women have such different expectations of communication. Deborah Tannen believes that once men and women understand these difference’s, improvement in communication “comes naturally(408)”.


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