Men Report, Women Rapport

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It’s a given that women and men communicate differently.  Since communication is not just talking, but sending and receiving messages, and since approximately half of our audience is of a different gender, it is important to understand these differences.


Recently, Mike and I sat in the backseat as another couple drove us to a restaurant.  As I observed their interactions, I realized they were almost identical to ours when Mike is driving and I am navigating.  We are very different from this couple, and yet the conversation was the same.


Now, I personally hate stereotypes, but you really cannot avoid noticing similarities like this.  Deborah Tannen, in You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation (1994) uses report talk to describe the way men seek status through a demonstration of knowledge or skill, instrumentality, command of the conversation, assertive expressions, and impersonal terms.  Women seek relationships by engaging in rapport talk, emphasizing equality, responsiveness, maintenance of the conversation, tentativeness, and personal experiences.


For example, a wife tells her husband she had a bad day at work, using specific examples of why it was bad.  The husband responds by asking her what she did to solve those individual examples, or telling her how she should have solved them.  The wife is frustrated that the husband is trying to solve the problem instead of just listening to her, while the husband is frustrated that the wife doesn’t take his advice on how to solve her problems.


Taking this to a broader audience, when leading a mixed-gender team, the leader should take care to speak both languages.  Women can work at reflecting less on personal experience and emotional details and demonstrating knowledge and skill through conversation.  Men can try to speak more personally with less concern for commanding the conversation.  This is also important to understand when writing a promotion for an event or series at your church, or in your sermons or presentations.  By blending report giving with rapport building, you are speaking a language that can be received and processed by both genders.

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