Carol Platt Liebau: Who Talks More?

Monday, July 16, 2007

Who Talks More?

Deborah Tannen makes a good point that determining which sex talks more can't really be accurately discerned from the simple process of counting words. As she notes, one of the big issues is who talks when, for what purpose.

While she's right in noting that women talk to build rapport and relationships, what she never comes right out and says is the purpose of what she characterizes as men's "report talk." My impression has always been that men talk as part of "taking on" or "mastering" the world. Rather than being insulted when husbands, brothers or close male friends don't feel the need to chatter a mile a minute, I've always taken it as something of a compliment (even as it's mildly aggravating at times): The silence often means that the men in question don't feel that they need to "fight it" or make an impression -- they can relax, and fall into the default male state, which is, I believe, a state of semi-silence.

Since I'm on the loquacious side myself, my experience may not be representative. But it strikes me that men do "use" talking as a way to make their way in the world, socially or in business. And often -- in contrast to women -- a silent man is a comfortable man.

Gentlemen readers: Do you agree?


Blogger Terry said...

Carol, I think you understand men very well. We are suspicious of other men who speak for no apparent reason, but will always make an exception for the sake of humor. PS: Love your blog and read it everyday.

8:54 AM  
Blogger Jerry said...

I have nothing to say on this subject

7:08 PM  
Blogger HouseOfSin said...

Yes, I agree that guys speak far fewer words across the board than women.

That said, I did a few psychological experiments myself in college. (I suppose we all did, but mine were for credit.) One curious thing I found was that people who knew they were being observed made an effort to buck the stereotype – whatever it was – than play into it. For example, if I were to canvas some fat people and thin people (and control for race, age, gender, what-not), and ask about hobbies, I would get answers like “golf, martial arts, tennis” from the fat bunch and “watch TV, go cruising” among the thin. If I took that at face value, I would really believe that obesity were akin to a virus going around. It’s not.

The real explanation is that the thin people have a lifestyle that so permeates everything, they don’t automatically think of themselves as active. So they mention hobbies that may well be sedentary. The obese, meanwhile, are ashamed of being so, and try to play up the things they know they should do. Mini-golf qualifies as “golf.” The Tae Kwon Do class from childhood qualifies as “martial arts” now. The obese try to buck, and the thin don’t change or if anything understate what they do.

So keeping that experience in mind, what I think the study shows is that absolutely women talk more. The small gap shown is a minimum gap, not an average or maximum gap.

Consider that both genders wore microphones. My hunch is it made both genders conscious of their doings. The women, eager to not play into a stereotype (and also just generally watchful of their words), spoke less. The guys didn’t have much more to say, but being watchful themselves, they did add pronouns and articles to make complete sentences from fragments. “Back there” or just a thumb pointing would become “Andy is back there.” Two or zero words became four. I know for a fact that I act differently near a microphone. What the guys did (I think) was the verbal equivalent of sitting up straight: Using complete sentences.

And yet: Despite the fact that women probably talked less from carefulness, and men probably talked more for completeness, we still had a gap. That to me definitively proves that in real life, it's not even close.

That or I'm terminally unconfident from all these words. Whichever.

11:00 AM  
Blogger The Flomblog said...

Here we go again -

Fat people are fat for many reasons. So lets just hold them up to ridicule?

I hate to get into this - but While I am a large man - I have a working brain. And you my bigoted friend?

6:21 PM  

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