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You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation Paperback – May 7, 1991

4.1 out of 5 stars 171 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Georgetown University linguistics professor Tannen asserts that misunderstandings between the sexes often arise because women like to connect emotionally in conversation while men prefer to impart knowlege. "Tannen examines the functioning of argument and interruption, and convincingly supports her case for the existence of 'genderlect,' " said PW. Author tour.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.


Ever been baffled by his behavior, perplexed by his posturing, unnerved by his missed understanding? You're not alone. As a sociolinguist, Deborah Tannen's focus is not just on language, but on how communication styles either facilitate or hinder personal interactions. According to Deborah, men and women are essentially products of different cultures, possessing different-but equally valid-communication styles. While women generally seek to "connect" with other people in intimate, parallel relationships, men approach conversation as a "one-up or one-down situation." As a result, women often feel silenced by men, although that is not necessarily men's intention. Presented as a tool for understanding and change, this book offers clear analyses of example conversational exchanges between the sexes; excerpts from the works of linguists, sociologists and others; and samples from various media, including TV and novels. By illustrating the cause and effects of these different conversational styles, Deborah takes the blame-self-recrimination-out of communication snafus so that we may begin to build bridges in understanding. -- From The WomanSource Catalog & Review: Tools for Connecting the Community for Women; review by PH

Product Details

  • Paperback: 330 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books; Reprint edition (May 7, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345372050
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345372055
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5.1 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (171 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #439,409 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Deborah Tannen is the acclaimed author of You Just Don't Understand, which was on the New York Times bestseller list for nearly four years including eight months as #1; the ten-week New York Times bestseller You're Wearing THAT?: Understanding Mothers and Daughters in Conversation; I Only Say This Because I Love You: Talking to Your Parents, Partner, Sibs and Kids When You're All Adults, which won the Books for a Better Life Award; Talking from 9 to 5: Women and Men at Work; That's Not What I Meant!; and many other books. A professor of linguistics at Georgetown University, she has written for and been featured in newspapers and magazines such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, Time, and Newsweek. She appears frequently on TV and radio, including such shows as 20/20, The Oprah Winfrey Show, The Colbert Report, Nightline, Today, Good Morning America, and NPR's Morning Edition and All Things Considered. She is university professor and professor of linguistics at Georgetown University, and has been McGraw Distinguished Lecturer at Princeton University. She lives with her husband in the Washington, D.C., area.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Deborah Tannen has written an excellent book analyzing theverbal interaction between men and women. I highly recommend it toanyone. For many years I have been only generally aware of some of the symptoms she describes, mostly through personal communication problems that arose in my marriage. After reading her book, I now have a much better understanding of these challenging problems of differing perspective and I hope I can even change my reactions when these problems reoccur. I even note on pg. 201 (page numbers throughout refer to the Hardcover Edition) that the author herself, "as a result of doing this research, learned not to use machine-gun questions or cooperative overlapping with people who don't respond well -- a tangible benefit of understanding conversational style."
I don't believe her book is at all one-sided. It presents examples of how some people (often women) feel they are always being interrupted and not allowed to present their views. It also describes how a male speaker, through his style, fails to get a professional group's attention or credit for bringing up a major point -- that is then later repeated by another speaker, who refers to the earlier speaker but still gets all the credit.
In order for others to gain an appreciation of this book, I quote below from several selections.
"Who talks more, then, women or men? The seemingly contradictory evidence is reconciled by the difference between what I call public and private speaking. More men feel comfortable doing `public speaking,' while more women feel comfortable doing `private' speaking. Another way of capturing these differences is by using the terms report-talk and rapport-talk.
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Format: Paperback
This book can change your life, but only if both you and your spouse read it. Or a good handbook for singles, hoping to figure out just what exactly that other strange species is really saying. What is most impressive is how even handedly Dr. Tannen treats female- and male-oriented communication styles, noting that neither style is inherently better, but just profoundly different, and that understanding the basis for how women and men communicate so differently can really lay a groundwork for avoiding lots of misunderstandings. This is absolutely true. As a man, I am amazed that Dr. Tannen has such a solid and objective understanding of male-pattern communication styles. I certainly learned a lot about how women communicate, and thus have avoided perhaps 50% of the misunderstandings in my marriage. Now if I can only get my lovely spouse to "just read the book" (which alas has turned into my final defense on more than one occaision), we can eliminate the other 50%!
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Format: Paperback
One of the things I've noticed about books like this is that the author comes up with a "matrix" of different, usually opposing, characteristics (in this case, human behaviour), then uses that matrix to explain *all* the differences in behaviour. Here Tannen expresses every described conflict between men and women *solely* in terms of gender differences. SOme are, some aren't.
Books like this sound very plausible when you are reading them, but then if you read another similar book, you notice that the second author uses an entirely different set of "parameters" for their own matrix (which is quite plausible when you're reading it as well). Trouble is, the two matrices that sound so compelling are totally incompatible and in fact contradict each other.
Moral of the story: it doesn't have to be accurate, it just has to be plausible enough to get a publishing deal.
Good case in point: Tannen mentions the trouble she had with a new computer purchase. The first time she took it back to the shop, the repairman was very unhelpful and spouted a bunch of gibberish at her. Later, she took the computer back and talked to one of the saleswomen, who solved her problem. Conclusion: men are unfriendly and one-uppers, while women are helpful and nurturing.
Problem is, I've known many women who act like the uncommunicative repairman. And I've seen many males who are very helpful and can easily help solve people's problems.
So this wasn't a male-female difference that Tannen experienced, it was simply that the first person she encountered (who happened to be male) was a very technically oriented type; he probably wasn't trying to be rude or unhelpful, he was just not too great at verbal interaction.
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8 Comments 198 of 245 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Paperback
I read this book many years ago, and have since given it as a gift many times over. Ms. Tannen gives us a clear picture of WHY men and women's communication styles are so different through studies and examples that are easy to read and understand. This book has given me information that has proven invaluable over time in my relationships with both men and women. I have given this book as a wedding gift and have been profusely thanked by both husband and wife. I have also given it to a few teens who are just beginning to get into the world of male/female communication (or lack thereof). It has been well accepted and appreciated. My own experiences have been less frustrating based on a better understanding of where we are going (communicatively) and why. Thank you Deborah Tannen for a wonderful gift of insight!
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