But What Do You Mean

ButWhat Do You Mean

Communicationcomes off as one of the most fundamental aspects of the human societyboth in the contemporary and the conventional societies. Indeed, itcomes off as one of the elements that may be credited with theprogress of human beings to the point of managing to explore otherparts of the world even in cases where the languages are not similar.Needless to say, different fundamental steps have been made toenhance communication between individuals, with the internet beingone of them. In spite of the technological progress, there still arenumerous instances of miscommunication between individuals especiallywhen they are of different genders. This miscommunication emanatesfrom their different ways of passing the same message, which areexplored by Deborah Tannen.

DeborahTannen, in her essay titled “But what do you mean?,” outlines thevariations that exist between the manner in which men and womenutilize conversational rituals. She acknowledges that men have thetendency to make use of language in an effort to sustain theirsuperiority in the conversation, which is different from women whousually tend to tag to the heartstrings or feelings of the otherpeople. She notes that “manyof the conversational rituals common among women are designed to takethe other people’s feelings into account, while many of theconversational rituals among men are designed to maintain a one-upposition, or at least avoid appearing one-down”(Tannen 93). This has implications on the positions of individuals indifferent genders when conversing, with the women being at adisadvantage since they make no effort to avert the possibility ofbeing in the one-down position.

Tannenidentifies quite a number of areas in which there is bound to be amiscommunication between men and women. First, the tendency of womento use apologies so as to reassure their audience may be seen by menas acceptance of blame rather than the ritual reassurance that theyare. In addition, women offer soft criticism while men are blunter inthe same. It is noted that “peoplewho prefer criticism given straight are operating on the assumptionthat feelings are not involved”(Tannen 92). Third, women have a tendency to thank their audience asa ritual. In addition, women favor verbally sparing compared towomen, in which case the later may feel as if there are under attackin conversations. As much as both genders use praise, there arevariations in the manner in which they do this. Women expect to bepraised for a good job while their male counterparts think thatfailure to criticize is sufficient praise. Further, women share theirproblems to commiserate, whereas men see it as a way of solving theproblems. This may have implications on the manner in which theindividuals are perceived with the author acknowledging that “shemay be seen as not up to solving the problems that arise”(Tannen 96). Lastly, men prefer playful insults and teasing unlikewomen prefer self-deprecating humor. It may be acknowledged that thevariations are not wrong in any way rather their recognition wouldresult in better communication between individuals in differentgenders.

Inconclusion, there are numerous variations between the manner in whichwomen and men communicate. This may affect the effectiveness ofpassing the message. While men and women may have similar likes andpreferences, the manner in which they prefer the same delivered isdifferent. In essence, acknowledging the variations would go a longway in allowing for better communication.


Tannen,Deborah. But what do you mean? Communication Differences between menand women. Vol. 183 Redbook, 10-01-1994, pp. 91 (6)