Customer Reviews: That's Not What I Meant!: How Conversational Style Makes or Breaks Relationships
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on October 19, 2000
More than one newlywed couple I've talked to describes the first year as a difficult and challenging time, and the insights that this book gives can make the difference between being able to work through the issues and just running in place.
I read this book just after our honeymoon, and it was a revelation. Although both my wife and I had a wonderful relationship before we got married, we found ourselves having problems that neither of us understood after we wed. As I read this book I quickly saw that there were issues discussed that paralleled what we were going through. I loaned it to my wife, and now three years later we make it a point to add a copy to any wedding gift we give.
Once you read this book, you may see the communication in your own relationships with a clearer eye. Of course, that assumes that you actually understand the text, instead of (as two reviewers here do) simply skim it for evidence of some preconceived political agenda. People who see Feminist conspiracies around every corner will completely miss the point of this book, which is too bad. I suspect such folks don't have much luck understanding the women in their lives either.
A good example of the misreading that the Feminist-hunter did is in the claim that "she propells the notion that men are liguistically-challenged because they don't follow her prescribed patterns of femme-speak." Yet the whole point of Dr. Tannen's book is this: While indirect communication (more common among women) is as valid as more direct styles (more common among men), it is the way someone who speaks in one style perceives the messages from a person who uses another that causes problems. What really made the book enlightening to me was the exploration of how context and meta-messages change that cross-style dynamic, and it helped me understand how my words could be misunderstood, how I might be misunderstanding the words of others, and why the exact same actions after the wedding could have totally different results than they did a week earlier.
My only negative comment about the book is that Dr. Tannen not only doesn't give any advice on bridging the gaps in style, she even states at one point that such efforts are futile. People who use an indirect style, for example, will be offended by a direct discussion of communication styles, because they'll try to figure out "what you're REALLY trying to say". In fact, once both my wife and I had read and discussed the book, we learned to clear up (if not always prevent) this kind of problem, and it made a huge difference in our marriage. A little less pessimism and a bit more guidance would have made the book even better.
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on February 10, 2000
This book does indeed have a narrow focus, but the subject of that focus--interpersonal communication--has far reaching implications in any type of human relationship. As was correctly stated by a previous reviewer, relationships often suffer from a variety of different problems, ranging from differences in personal habits, to differences in values, to differences in religious views, but that is more or less a given in any relationship, especially one in which people share a domicile. However, it is how those relationship partners choose to "deal" with their inevitable differences "communicatively" that will determine the ultimate success or failure of their relationship. Do they choose to disagree or argue endlessly? Do they insult each other, or call each other names? Do they try to talk over each other,or become violent? Or do they approach each other in cooperative manner, open to each other's different ideas and viewpoints, with a willingness to learn from each other?
What Tannen does in this book is show how some of the common communication differences between men and women in relationships have their basis in fundamental differences in the way men and women perceive each other, and relationships in general. And furthermore, that these fundamental differences, often hidden below the surface, can have profound, and often negative, effects on all kinds of relationships throughout a person's life, unless they are brought into the light of day. In effect, what Tannen is trying to do is to get people to be more aware of how they "habitually" communicate, the possible reasons why they communicate in those ways, and how the things they say and do may affect others. In effect, her goal is to empower people to begin--perhaps for the first time in their lives--to really "choose" how they communicate in relationships--rather than being a slave to destructive habits relied on since childhood. I strongly recommend this book for both men and women in ongoing close relationships. Once you have read it, you will never see communication in your relationships in quite the same way.
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on February 12, 2003
This is my favorite of Tannen's books. It makes some simple but important points about why people have trouble communicating. They talk differently.
My favorite comment was about people having different tolerances for pauses after the other person stops talking. For some people it is 10 seconds. For others it was nano-seconds. I wanted to encourage a quiet friend to talk. I found that by counting silently to ten after I finished talking before starting again, made him realize there was a gap to be filled there. An easy trick but I learned a lot from him and Tannen.
This is the book to give to friends and relatives, rather than her others that beat the differences between men and women into the ground. Simple but with a sweet and useful message.
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on July 17, 1999
This book addresses a problem that is common in troubled relationships and offers some very good advice on how to deal with it. The only drawback that I really see is that the book addresses only that one problem in relative isolation, and troubled relationships often suffer from other problems as well. But, so long as you keep its somewhat narrow focus in perspective, and don't fall into the easy trap of believing that solving this one problem will make everything all right, it is a marvelous tool for improving communications in relationships.
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on July 7, 2001
Deborah Tannen sure takes care of emphasizing her Ph.D degree in linguistics on the cover of every book she writes. And she has every reason to do that, since "That's Not What I Meant" is a book very influential and full of revelations about... talking.
Through many (very many) examples of everyday talk, Tannen... oops, sorry, Dr. Tannen ;-) explains how something very small we said can turn a whole conversation upside down, bringing the opposite result of what we expected. Be it between friends, lovers, or even diplomatic ambassadors, she shows how the way we talk - anything from the tone we say a word to a single finger's gesture - can change completely the meaning of our talk, and gives advice and suggestions on how to talk better and have more successful communication with everyone around us.
What I didn't particularly like about this book, is that Tannen is providing far more extensive examples of talk than she is providing explanations and solutions. She does explain things, and at the end, I did understand a lot of things I never really noticed about talking, but I certainly became a bit overwhelmed by the vast number of examples, and many times I couldn't focus on the main point.
However, this still is a pleasant book, that is easily and casually read at any time of the day. Given its low price and the practicality of its conclusions, I'd recommend it to anyone.
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on March 25, 2007
Deborah Tannen comes from the point of view of a linguist which is not common in psychology-oriented "self-help" books. I like her analytical yet practical style. Knowing the conversational style of different cultures as well as genders can't help but improve one's communication. I would recommend reading her book "You Just Don't Understand" and if one likes that, move on to her other somewhat more esoteric books. I read them all with a highlighter in hand.
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on May 17, 2015
This is Tannen's first book in this line. It is highly transformational.

Her following books in the series provide the applications. This book explains the underlying engine. With engaging clarity and practical examples on every page, this book explains the back and forth mechanics of conversational style, and how simple, easily recognizable differences in conversational styles can create major misunderstandings and conflicts in any type of relationship, including between significant others, family members and fellow employees.

These differences in conversation style and the difficulties they create are pervasive. This book trains you to see them. Once you see them you can't not see them, and once you can't not see them you can't not do something about them..

We can never easily change other people. In particular, people are often threatened by even talking about how they talk, since the way we talk is a major part of who we think we are. Tannen explains this clearly.

The only other option is to change ourselves. Fortunately, most of the solution is to change our awareness, reduce our automatic responses, and increase our choices in what we say.

This book provides the guidance for accomplishing that.
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on June 5, 2015
Good book to read. Common sense stuff that you don't really think about at the time. If you are arguing all the time, it could give you some insight as to what may be going on with you and your partner.
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on April 15, 2013
This book helped my husband and I get along better. He did not read it but I did and found out that we were giving the wrong feedback to each other. We only understood the feedback that we had learn growing up. When to my husband would tall me something that happened or something he saw I would say: "Is that so?" or "Really", or "I didn't know that". He thought I was saying he was lying and would stop talking to me. .

The book showed me my mistake and told me to listen to the feedback he gave when I told him something that had happened. His feedback was just a "Hmmmm". I started to do that when he spoke and all was well.

Very helpful book if you are having communication problems with someone.
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on May 22, 2014
Her writing is serious and yet light-hearted reading! She forced me to stop and think ... also laugh about how many times I have misunderstood what someone from the opposite sex was trying to say. When I finished the book, I was happy I had spent the time to complete it!
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