Genderlect theory of Deborah Tannen

People always quote, “We are all the same.” But is this really the case? For us humans, are we really all the same? When we say “same”, it’s about the way we communicate, about our etiquette, our lifestyle, and our emotions.

This quote is just flawed in certain perspective, especially when we talk about our genders, how women and men are the opposite of the same. Deborah Tannen, 1990, strongly believes that men and women have different ways of communicating, different dialects and that the best way to describe communication between the genders is in a cross-cultural format. She called this, Genderlect theory of Deborah Tannen.

This theory mostly focuses on how the two genders, male and female, are made of different things and how both genders has contrasting styles, in terms of the way they communicate.  She generalizes all men and women, assuming that all of them are similar in their own gender, without mentioning about, what Sandra Harding and Julia Wood said, the lives of different women either powerful or the poor, gays and lesbians, and racial minorities.

Although Tannen’s theory is useful in understanding the other gender’s way of communicating preventing miscommunication between gender and help to promote mutual respect by showing how people should appreciate and the style of communication of both gender, it’s credibility is still lacking as it fails to mention the minorities of both gender. It's goal was to acknowledge and accept the communicative culture of the other.

Let us look at the different scenarios, which go against this theory. All examples below is from the hit America sitcom comedy, Friends, by David Crane and Marta Kauffman. 

The above video go against Tannen's statement, that the reason we communicate is that for women, is to seek connection, and for men, is to seek status. Griffin (2009, p. 433) foretold that men tell far more stories especially jokes than women do and "telling jokes is a masculine way to negotiate status." By contrast, men are more likely to engage in talk only when it makes them look good, strong, competitive, or independent where women communicate to build and then maintain their relationship.

But then again, not all men are the same. Typically, you can say that men do do that, joke around and engage in talks which made them look good. It's similar to stereotyping that all men can't cook or can't do laundry. The above video says the opposite, how certain men also seek connection and that . 

Here, you can see that Rachel (Jennifer Aniston), is in the opposite of the usual typical situation. How it is men who are suppose to comfort women, following what Tannen said, it is men who is suppose to be in control. Paul (Walter Bruce Willis), express his emotions and share personal feelings which is engaging in what women would do, rapport talk. Ayla Abdullah, 2012, also mention that men are the heroes in their own stories. Is Paul the hero in his stories? No he's not! 

What about women? Can women have what Tannen describes as men's style of communication?

The above video goes against Tannen's statement, that men talk to get things done (instrumental approach); women talk to interact with others (relational approach). This is justifying that men will talk much more in public arena than women and that they tend to be in control and will exudes more power. 

Here, Monica Geller (Courtney Cox), exudes power more than the men in the room. She shows that not only men can be in control and have that leadership ability and that women too, talked in an instrumental approach (the exchange of factual information and to get things done).

The men here too seemed overpowered by Monica, and is unwilling to fight against her, which shows their vulnerability and how men can be afraid of speaking against women in public. This can potentially make them, as what Ayla said, "one-down". Supposedly, men will want to be in control but this video says otherwise. This shows that not all men need to be egoistic. 

In conclusion, Tannen's theory may be right in helping people understand the different ways to talk to the different cultural genders, but it is still seem to be more onto her feminist point of view. Harding and Wood mentioned that feminist standpoint theorists suggest that women are underadvantaged, and thus men are overadvantaged.

She also failed to mention the other minorities, or the muted groups (based on gender), such as the gay and lesbian community and on how their way of communicating is. This may vary to the stereotypical gendered world, and may show another different characteristics of men and women. 


Tannen, D. (1990). You just don’t understand. New York: Ballantine.

Harding, S. (1991). Whose science? Whose knowledge? Thinking from women’s lives. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Griffin, E. (2009). A First Look At Communication Theory (7th ed). New York: McGraw-Hill.

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