Gendered Language: Dr. Deborah Tannen

Gendered Language: Dr. Deborah Tannen In 1990, Dr. Deborah Tannen came out with an interesting and useful research-based book, You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation. The ideas are pretty useful in this book, so I thought I would review a few of the main ideas. Deborah Tannen is a top and longtime expert in linguistics and gender differences from Georgetown University. As a researcher and an author, she shares several useful ideas in her book regarding the main differences between how men and women primarily communicate. Understanding these differences of the opposite sex can greatly assist in relating with and understanding both your own and the opposite gender.

Ideas from the book:

*We have different language styles as men and women. Tannen writes that, from childhood, boys and girls learn different approaches to language and communication; she calls these different approaches "genderlects". She theorizes that these different types of communication are socially learned while growing up. I am sure that is partly true. I also think some of our language differences as men and women come from our biology and physical wiring. We can also understand this spiritually as coming from gender differences we inherited before this earth. As we learned from the 1995 Proclamation to the World, “All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.”.

*Women primarily emphasize “rapport talk”. According to Tannen, females engage in "rapport-talk" — a communication style meant to promote social affiliation and emotional connection. For most women, the language of conversation is primarily a language of rapport: a way of establishing connections and negotiating relationships. This rapport talk can be used to emotionally bond, seek validation and understanding, and work through emotions connected to a situation or circumstance.

*Men primarily emphasize “report talk”. Men generally engage in "report-talk" — a style focused on exchanging information with little emotional importance. For most men, talking is mainly a means to preserve independence and negotiate and maintain status in social hierarchies. The aim of this kind of talk is to achieve goals, get things done, and achieve other practical outcomes.

*The results when these two types of conversational styles clash. The differences in metamessages (the bigger message being sent) result in misunderstandings between men and women. This leads to conversations at cross-purposes, since both parties may miss the other's metamessages, with resulting misunderstandings. For example, a woman complaining about the lingering effects of a medical procedure may merely be seeking empathy from female friends by doing so, becomes angry at her husband when he suggests a solution involving further surgery.


Given these differences, how does a couple navigate the common challenges arriving from 2 different styles, approaches, and goals to communication? Well, learning about them is a good start. Beyond this little primer article, it may be worth your while to read more about these differences. You can get and read Dr. Tannen’s book reviewed here, perhaps along with Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus by Dr. John Gray—a book I also reviewed in a previous article.

After learning about and understanding these differences better, a good rule of thumb is to share with your partner that you want to just be listened to (rapport talk), or figure out the best way to address the situation (report talk) whenever the need arises. When you clue the other person in to your communication style before talking, they can better know what mode to respond with from their side. Conversely, when the other person is talking, you can start in rapport talk (listening with understanding and validation), then ask if they would be open to a suggestion to deal with ____. If they say no (or otherwise don’t seem open to it), stay in rapport talk.

Final Thoughts:

I suggest thinking of language in the 2 basic ways shared by Deborah Tannen: rapport talk and report talk. Both men and women do both styles, with men most often doing report talk and women most often doing rapport talk. When you are in synch with the type of talking the other person is doing, the conversations will be better understood and will flow better. Your future spouse will thank you for taking the time to learn and apply this key concept, as conversations will be more enjoyable, productive, and constructive. This adjustment is worth making and will serve you well. And remember that “…neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.”—1 Corinthians 11:1.

Dr. G
P.S. If you have any questions, comments, or a future article request for me, feel free to contact me at

2022-12-04 Randy Gilchrist Understanding men, Understanding women, Dating

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About the author

Hello, my name is Dr. Randy Gilchrist (aka "Dr. G"). I am a licensed clinical psychologist, a licensed marriage & family therapist, and a certified hypnotherapist in private practice in Roseville, CA (, practicing since 1997. Also, I am happily married in the temple (Manti) since 1996 and have 4 sons. I am a volunteer writer and contributor to LDS Dimension. I use my training, education, and experience to share insights with LDS Dimension on all things of interest to the LDS dating community. Please read my articles and columns on this site to assist you in your online dating journey. Also, to be considered for an answer in a future Q and A column, please email me your dating/relationship oriented questions to Finally, I also offer a powerful, effective worldwide custom hypnosis recording service just for LDS Dimension members for weight loss, pornography, and many other issues of concern to those in the LDS dating community (please learn more now at; email me questions to