Relationship Basics: The Importance of Communication

Posted on Wed, Apr 16, 2008 @ 03:13 PM
Life as a Series of Conversations

A family weblog could be fed for years by studies that illustrate why good relationships are important for families, for society, for the global community. But without some attention to the "hows" of good relationships, it's only an academic exercise.

Arguably the most basic of relationship building blocks is the art of communication. At leastit is often referred to as an art, although there is certainly skill required, as well as a certain amount of science if one person is curious enough to delve a little deeper into a more accurate understanding of another.

Deborah Tannen, professor of linguistics at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. is one who does apply science along with art and skill as she approaches the field of communication within interpersonal relations. In her 1990 bestseller, You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation, she explores the complexities and misunderstandings that plague communication attempts between men and women.

"Each person's life is lived as a series of conversations," she points out. Acknowledging that there are dangers in generalizations, and always exceptions, she nevertheless sees it as important to note that: "There are gender differences in ways of speaking," and that "we need to identify and understand them. Without such understanding, we are doomed to blame others or ourselvesor the relationshipfor the otherwise mystifying and damaging effects of our contrasting conversational styles."

The common denominator that emerges from many of the studies reviewed by Tannen is that women often tend to emphasize similarities between themselves and their conversational partners, playing to an underlying interpersonal theme of "do you like me?" Men, on the other hand, more often converse to solve problems or impart information, their interpersonal theme being, "do you respect me?"

These differences may lead to misunderstandings because each expects the other to converse in a similar style to their own. A woman may perceive a man as being dismissive of her problem because he doesn't commiserate or offer a similar experience of his own to show he understands. Instead, he may offer a quick solution and change the subject, orif he sees no quick solutionhe may flatly state that he doesn't understand why she is letting it bother her since nothing can be done about it.

On the other hand, a husband may perceive his wife as belittling his problem when she offers a similar experience of her own to express her understanding and solidarity. To him, her response seems to mean, "your problem isn't so bad, I've had worse."

While acknowledging that there are plenty of individual exceptions to her general observations, Tannen illustrates her points with solid research and helpful real-life examples.

There are so many "aha!" moments in her book, that I have few reservations recommending it, though I don't do this often.

Tags: relationships, conversation, lingustics, men and women