This is the biggest, most commonly accepted, and most widely spread gender stereotypes. That’s why I’m addressing it first and spending some time to dispel this mindless myth.
First of all, why has this become such an accepted gender stereotypes? To begin with, when we hear something often enough, we start to believe it. Think about all the things you heard and believed as a kid (and maybe still do). “If you swallow gum, it will take years to come out.” Not true. It comes out like any other indigestible item you swallow. “Sitting too close to the television or watching television in the dark will damage your eyes.” Not true. Your eyes may feel some strain, but it certainly won’t damage them. “Cracking your knuckles causes arthritis.” This is also not true. Parents just made it up so they wouldn’t have to hear that irritating sound of your fingers popping.
Nearly every child has had to endure this myth: “You have to wait an hour after eating to go swimming or you could cramp up and drown.” Not true. There is no danger in swimming after you eat unless you don’t know how to swim. Then you would probably drown.
They say women talk too much. If you have worked in Congress you know that the filibuster was invented by men.
– Clare Booth Luce
I am truly amazed at how gullible we are as a society. The Internet provides ample proof. I constantly get trash in my inbox box about how the postal service is going to start taxing e-mails to make up for lost revenue on snail mail. They go on to suggest that I need to put my name at the bottom of the e-mail and pass it on to stop some horrible and pending legislation. Most people don’t even bother to check the veracity of these messages before they forward them on to their entire address book. Myths, legends, and folklore-that’s all most of these messages are. (By the way, you can stop spreading lies by checking the validity of many urban legends at www. Snopes.com.)
When a rumor, legend, or tall tale spreads enough, we come to accept it. This is how we have come to accept the blatant lie that women talk more than men. Some well-known experts continue to quote statistics that are not backed by actual studies. Some experts claim that women talk a staggering 20,000 words per day while men eke out a mere 7000. Yet no actual study backs up this ludicrous claim. Other experts have claimed that women use 7000 words per day and men use 2000. Still another expert has said women use 25,000 words per day and men only 12,000. One expert has even attributed women with 50,000 words per day and men with only 25,000. So which is it, folks? None of the above. As it turns out, every time I try to substantiate these numbers, I find something interesting. None of the experts using the numbers have conducted studies counting the number of words used by men and women, nor do they cite anyone who has actually counted the number.
This is not to say that no one has studied how much women and men talk. Two Canadian researchers (Deborah James and Janice Drakich) studied this very topic and reviewed the literature available. They discovered that men and women talk about the same amount (although the amount may vary with the cultural or social setting).
In July of 2007, 345 students at the University of Texas were strapped with recording devices. Researchers found that both men and women spoke about 16,000 words per day. This was an average; three people in the study spoke more than 47,000 words per day, and all three were men. But the student who averaged the lowest (only 700 words per day) was also a man. Gender doesn’t dictate how much someone talks.
Think about this for a minute: If we had put Joan Rivers and Gerald Ford in a room together, who would talk more? I think most people would agree that it would be Joan Rivers. Aha! So that proves itwomen talk more than men. Not so fast. . .Joan Rivers would talk more because she is an Expressive, not because she’s a woman. Gerald Ford would talk less because he was an Amiable, not because he was a man.
What if we had put Princess Dianna in a room with Robin Williams? Who would talk more? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that Robin Williams, an Expressive, would talk much more. Gender doesn’t dictate how much someone talks; social style does.
If we had put Jerry Lewis in a room with Mother Theresa, Jerry would have done most of the talking because he’s Expressive. If we put Ronald Reagan in a room with Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Reagan would also talk more because he was an Expressive.
I believe in an open mind, but not so open that your brains fall out.
– Arthur Hays Sulzberger
If we had put Richard Nixon in a room with Nicole Kidman, Nixon would have won the talking contest because he was a Driver. Drivers tend to dominate conversations, as do Expressives. The difference is usually what they talk about and their style. Expressives are more relationship oriented, so they tend to talk more about people and fun topics. They use a lot of humor, tell a lot of stories, and tend to be more demonstrative in their gestures. Drivers are more task oriented, so they tend to talk about more serious subjects and like to debate people on controversial issues. They will make intense eye contact with people and don’t have a problem saying what they think.
Amiables and Analyticals, on the other hand, do not like conflict. As a result, they tend to withhold their opinions in order to lessen the tension in a conversation. They are more reserved, so they don’t need to talk as much as Drivers and Expressives. Amiables are relationship oriented, so they like to talk about people: friends, relationships, and family. Analyticals like to analyze topics and conversations.
Expressives and Drivers will dominate most conversations while Amiables and Analyticals yield the floor. Their gender doesn’t matter. Actually, they are just a microcosm of society in general. Some men are Expressives, some are Drivers, some are Amiables, and some are Analyticals. Just look into your own family and circle of friends. Then identify social style, not gender. You’ll discover that your Driver and Expressive friends or family members do most of the talking, regardless of gender.
Who’s the Talker?
Let me give you a real-life example of a couple. Josh is an Expressive, and Bri is an Analytical. Experts would tell us that women talk more than men, so Bri should be the talker of the two. But Josh has been talking nonstop since he learned how to say “Da-da.” He’s been an Expressive since the day he was born, and if no one is around to talk to, he’ll talk to himself.
Bri, on the other hand, is an Analytical and will let josh do most of the talking. When they are out with a group of friends, she tends to be shier and lets him be the center of attention. This has nothing to do with their genders and everything to do with their social styles.
Some people may retort, “Well, those two are exceptions and anomalies, not the rule.” This is not the case. Thousands and thousands of other couples are just like josh and Bri. My research, interviews, and studies have confirmed this, and if you start taking the time to observe behavior in others, you will notice the same thing.
I conducted an online and in-person survey that produced 422 responses. I asked respondents to answer questions that helped me identify their social style. I also asked questions that helped determine characteristics that might be attributable to gender and others that might be attributable to social style. The survey is just one of the tools I used to confirm my assertion that many of the behaviors we attribute to gender are actually attributable to social style. I have also conducted interviews with a wide range of people, and I’ll share here some of those.
We don’t see things as they are. We see them as we are.
– Anais Nin
On the survey, I asked the respondents to choose between the two following statements: “I don’t talk a lot” and “I tend to talk a lot.” I also asked, “In your closest relationship with someone of the opposite sex, who does more of the talking, you or the other person?” (I also gave the option to select “We talk about the same amount of time.”) The results did not come as any surprise to me, but I do think they will surprise the experts who contend that women talk more than men.
More men than women selected the options “I talk a lot” or “I talk more.” So if we left the study at that, we could just conclude that men talk more than women. But that would be an incomplete evaluation of the real truth. When we look deeper and account for social style, we notice that more Drivers and Expressives filled out the survey than Amiables and Analyticals. Additionally, more male Drivers and Expressives responded than female Drivers and Expressives. This would logically account for the fact that more men said they talked more, because Drivers and Expressives talk more than Amiables and Analyticals.
When we dissect the responses further, we see that nearly all of the men who said they talked more were Drivers or Expressives. The same applied to the women. The men and women who said they talked less in the relationship turned out to be Analyticals or Amiables, just as I anticipated. So the amount of talking in a relationship was not attributable to gender at all; it was attributable to social style.
Gender Stereotypes Can Hurt
Why is this so important? Here’s why: Men and women read books about how to make each other happy and speak each other’s so-called gender languages, but the books do more harm than good.
You meet someone and you’re sure you were lovers in a past life. After two weeks with them, you realize why you haven’t kept in touch for the last two thousand years.
– Al Cleathen
I interviewed a couple who explained how gender stereotypes had hurt their relationship. When David fell in love with Karen, he bought her flowers, wrote her poems, and called her often. He read plenty of books that told him women felt loved when men talked to them and let them share their feelings. David started to get a little put off when Karen seemed busy and distracted and didn’t want to talk for very long on the phone. He had read that women get their identity from relationships, so he wanted to make himself available to her as often as he could. Besides, he considered himself to be relationship oriented and romantic. He knew he wasn’t the stereotypical guy, so doing the things he thought all women wanted was natural for him.
He stopped by Karen’s house with a sweet card. Karen was in the middle of a project and was a little put off that David came by unannounced. She had a lot of things to get done and didn’t have time to socialize right then. She thanked him and let him know she appreciated it, but she was a little abrupt with him. David left her house feeling hurt and confused. He actually liked to talk and socialize, and he was convinced all women did too. So why didn’t Karen seem to appreciate his efforts?
The myth: Men want to solve their problems alone; women want to talk about their problems.
The truth: Driver and Analytical men and women want to solve their problems alone; Expressive and Amiable men and women want to talk about their problems.
David failed to understand that Karen, like many women, did not fit the gender stereotypes because her identity wasn’t rooted in relationships. She didn’t fit the gender stereotypes of wanting to spend hours talking to her boyfriend. Some experts may have consoled David with the “exception to the rule” excuse or dismissed Karen’s behavior as abnormal. Or they may have even speculated that her cold and distant father caused her to put people at a distance.
If only David had understood social style. He would have known that Karen is a Driver, and she hates talking on the phone for very long periods of time. She wants people to get to the point quickly. She focuses on tasks and isn’t a needy person. In fact, she’s very independent. She viewed David as being too needy and started to become turned off by his approach. Because David was buying into all of the gender stereotypes and didn’t understand Karen’s social style, he was making matters worse, not better.
Had David known about social style and really done his homework on how to relate to a Driver, he would have known that some of his actions would irritate Karen. Had he not been fed all of the gender stereotypes, he would have known that a Driver (male or female) who is in task mode does not appreciate wasting time on the phone with chitchat. David could have adapted his behavior to meet Karen’s needs instead of trying to apply the recommendations that have resulted from gender stereotypes.
Women Talk About Relationships; Men Go in the Cave
Let’s look at another myth that relates to women who talk and men who are silent.
In modern Western culture, men often feel accused of being feminine if they want to talk about their problems or share their feelings. Women who don’t want to talk about things are accused of using the silent treatment to manipulate men. So women are accused of talking all the time, but they are also accused of using the silent treatment all the time …well, which is it? You can’t have it both ways.
In my survey, I asked respondents to make one of the following choices: I prefer to…
- Talk about and work through my relationship issues.
- Keep my issues to myself.
According to the widespread gender stereotypes, most of the men should have selected B, and most of the women should have selected A. Many experts tell us that women want to talk to their girlfriends about their relationships and men would rather retreat into their caves and be left alone. But my own research, interviews, and behavior observation has not shown this to be true.
Drivers and Analyticals are more task oriented than relationship oriented, so they tend to want to work on things themselves. They don’t particularly like to chitchat with people about their problems because they would rather spend their time completing projects. Drivers and Analyticals deal with relationships issues by diving into work.
Two great talkers will not travel far together.
– Spanish proverb
Even though Drivers prefer to deal with issues themselves, they are not afraid to talk about issues and problems because they are extroverts. They don’t mind conflict, and they will deal with issues that need to be dealt with. They just don’t feel the need to focus on what they perceive as small and inconsequential relationship issues when bigger projects need to get done. Drivers and Analyticals will turn to tasks to cope with relationship overload. Amiables and Expressives will turn to relationships to deal with task overload.
Even though Amiables want to work things out and keep peace in relationships, they will clam up to avoid conflict. They don’t like conflict, and they will simply give in and agree with other people to avoid it. They prefer to let everyone just get along, and they do what they think is necessary to keep the peace. Sometimes that involves not bringing up a frustrating issue.
Plenty of men like to talk about their problems. Sometimes they perceive this as soft or girly or socially unacceptable. But that doesn’t mean they don’t want to. Other guys will talk about their relationship issues regardless of what people think.
Construction Workers in the Hen House
Television shows, movies, and books often depict groups of women gathering around to gossip about their relationships. The unflattering term henhouse comes to mind. Yet many men do the same thing. I was sitting in my office one day, writing. I had an air conditioning unit sticking out of the window, which allowed for most of the external sounds to travel into my office with ease.
On this particular day, an all-male construction crew was outside my window, working on the building right next to mine. (These guys were about as “manly” as they could be.) As I was attempting to type, I could hear their conversation perfectly.
Worker one: “Dude, what happened with Cindy? You didn’t show up with her at Dan’s party Saturday. Are you guys fighting again?”
Worker two: “Actually, she dumped me.”
Worker three: “Ouch, Dog! What happened?”
Worker two: “She said I was being too clingy and jealous.”
Worker one: “I told you that would happen. You just smother her too much, man.”
Worker two: “I was just trying to show her I cared. What was I supposed to do?”
Worker three: “Well, you could have called her a little less or not returned her calls. That’s when women come running after you-when they think you don’t want them anymore.”
Worker two: “I’m just not into all those head games. I am who I am, and if she can’t accept me for that, we’re just not meant to be.”
Worker one: “There are other fish in the sea. In fact, my cousin has been wanting to go out with you for months. I’ll invite her to the Downtown Street Fair with us Thursday if you want.”
Worker two: “I’m not ready for that yet. I’m still getting over Cindy.”
I sat at my computer laughing-not at the unfortunate fellow’s situation, but at the way these men were expressing themselves. According to the experts, this should have been a group of women. Instead, it was a group of Expressive and/or Amiable men who wanted to talk about their relationships. Exchanges like this happen everywhere, regardless of what the experts say. And they would occur a lot more often if our culture didn’t make Expressive and Amiable men feel as if they were abnormal. Gender stereotypes have made men feel weird if they don’t want to retreat to their cave, grunt, and stuff their feelings.
Truth is tough. It will not break, like a bubble, at a touch. Nay, you may kick it about all day, and it will be round and full at evening.
– Oliver Wendell Holmes
Before the sitcom Friends (the most popular sitcom in history) went off the air, an episode depicted the gender stereotypes that women like to talk about the details of relationships and men don’t. Ross and Rachel had shared their first kiss. The first scene after the kiss shows all the women gathered in Monica’s apartment. Phoebe grabs a box of tissue, and Rachel starts sharing the romantic details of the kiss. The next scene shows the guys gathered around a pizza. Joey asks about the kiss by saying, “Tongue?” Ross replies, “Yep,” and that was the end of it. It was intended to show the humorous difference between men and women when talking about relationships, and though it was very funny, it was inaccurate.
Yes, some women do need to share all the details and talk to every girlfriend they know. But some men need to talk too. They don’t always do it, though, because society tells them that’s a girly thing to do. Again, it’s more of a social-style issue, not a gender issue.
No man ever looks at the world with pristine eyes. He sees it edited by a definite set of customs and institutions and ways of thinking.
– Ruth Benedict
It’s More About Social Style
So now you know that the amount a person talks is not based on gender-it’s based on social style. Or more precisely, the amount a person wants to talk is not based on gender-it’s based on social style. (See figures 1A and IB to see the relationship between social styles and communication.) Certain social and cultural situations may lend themselves to men or women talking more. For example, who do you think talks more in Afghanistanmen or women? My guess would be men. Social acceptability and culture will play a role in how much someone may actually talk in a given situation, but social style will dictate how much they want to talk. If you take a little time to understand social style and how it affects behavior, you can begin to make adjustments to improve the personal and professional relationships in your life.
Social Styles and the desire to talk
|Low desire to talk||High desire to talk|
|Low desire to talk||High desire to talk|
Social styles, tone of voice and speed of talk
|Softer tone||Higher tone|
|Slower speed||Faster speed|
|Softer tone||Higher tone|
|Slower speed||Faster speed|