Language, Sex, and Power: Women and Men in the Workplace

By Koonce, Richard | Training & Development, September 1997 | Go to article overview

Language, Sex, and Power: Women and Men in the Workplace


Koonce, Richard, Training & Development


HERE'S AN INTERVIEW WITH SOCIO-LINGUIST DEBORAH TANNEN, AUTHOR OF THE GROUNDBREAKING YOU JUST DON'T UNDERSTAND: WOMEN AND MEN IN CONVERSATION.

Okay, confession time: To what extent do you believe, along with author John Gray, that men are from Mars and women are from Venus? Forget about how gender differences play out in the bedroom. Let's talk about how they affect what happens in conference rooms, boardrooms, and executive offices.

Legislators on Capitol Hill may debate whether women in the military should be in combat, but women on the front lines of the military and businesses might say that they already are - considering that charges of sexual harassment make the headlines on a regular basis, from Mitsubishi to the U.S. Army.

Then there is the glass ceiling, which, as countless women will attest, remains firmly in place in workplaces across America. In October 1996, the research firm Catalyst reported that only 10 percent of top jobs at the 500 largest U.S. companies were held by women. And there was only one woman CEO among the ranks of the Fortune 500, Jill Bartad of Mattel.

Do those inequities account for the friction between men and women in the workplace, for the daily communication "disconnects," and for the incidents of harassment? What can men and women do to build bridges of better communication and understanding at work?

Those are just a few topics I wanted to cover with author, socio-linguist, and Georgetown University professor Deborah Tannen when I met with her recently in her Washington, D.C. office.

Tannen, a respected and perhaps the best-known expert on workplace communication, is credited with being the first person to bring to the forefront the differences in communication styles between men and women. Her international bestseller, You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation (William Morrow, 1990), raised awareness about the differences and the fact that they are established in early childhood through talk and play.

For example, Tannen says that men tend to view conversations as "negotiations" in which they try to achieve status and maintain independence. For men, interactions are, on one level, a contest of power and will. Their goal is to avoid being the "weakest" boy on the playground.

Women, on the other hand, tend to view conversation as a way to connect with other people. For them, conversation is about finding commonality and building networks of connection and intimacy.

In Talking From 9-5, Women and Men in the Workplace: Language, Sex, and Power (Avon Books, 1994), Tannen broke new ground by discussing the ways that gender differences can hinder (or enrich) communication between men and women at work. Tannen says that even when gender differences don't erupt in harassment or violence, they can affect who is valued in the workplace, who is recognized, who is promoted, and what gets done.

For example, many women have done well on a big project and then seen a man get the credit. Or they avert a major crisis and no one notices. Or they come up with a breakthrough idea for a new product and are ignored until a man suggests the same idea.

What's going on?

He asked, she said

Koonce: When you began researching your books and focusing on gender as part of your work, did you have any idea that there would be such a groundswell of interest?

Tannen: I think when it comes to gender, everyone knows it's an issue between men and women. Everyone knows there are certain discomfort levels and that you can feel frustrated, misunderstood, or puzzled by what a person of the other sex says to you.

Koonce: Your writing has caused a lot of women to have "uh-huh" experiences.

Tannen: That's true. It was the most common response after people read You Just Don't Understand. They said things like, "You've been hiding in my kitchen. I see myself on every page." It was gratifying. I wrote 9-5 because people told me that though the first book was helpful, I should write about the workplace because they spend half of their lives at work. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • A full archive of books and articles related to this one
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Language, Sex, and Power: Women and Men in the Workplace
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

    Already a member? Log in now.