Rx offered for 'genderlect'
Women need to be more direct, men must 'listen more actively'

send this article to a friendBy MARA McGINNIS
News Services Editor

A presentation on "Genderlect: Women's and Men's Language" by Jeannette Ludwig, associate professor of modern languages and literatures, kept a recent "UB at Sunrise" audience laughing with humorous examples of how men and women interact, interesting research findings and suggestions on how men and women can communicate more effectively.

"We have to keep in mind that no one in the world interacts without a kind of veil, or film of culture, which acts as a lens through which we view the world," said Ludwig. "Over the past 30 years, we have come to know that words do not reflect reality, but rather act as structures through which we view the world."

More importantly, she noted, "we create meaning in our interaction, whether we like it or not" and it is crucial for people to understand that speakers do not control the entire meaning of an interaction. "How something is received, constructed, understood is every bit as important as what the speaker intended."

In reference to the longtime best seller, "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus," Ludwig pointed out that, in fact, we are all "earthlings," but that some linguists and communication experts do believe that men and women can be seen as two separate cultures.

Despite the common myth, she stressed that men actually talk more than women.

"My favorite piece of research is a study where they took college students into a room and asked them to describe some pictures while being recorded. One of the guys began by saying 'Well, there is a man in a study and there are some books. Let's see there are one, two, three, four, five, six...' and counted each book out loud." One of the other male subjects, she said, kept talking until the tape ran out.

However, she told the audience that a distinct difference exists in the situations in which men and women talk.

"Men talk in formal situations where there is a concrete, instrumental task to be accomplished. Women tend to talk more in informal, unstructured, non-task-oriented situations," she explained. "There are societal expectations about when or where women should talk. Women are assumed to talk about small things, which is often perceived as too much talk or gossip."

She also said that women often are thought to be less interesting and less intellectual speakers and writers. "For example, how many solo female news anchors do we see on television....The environment in which women work is corrosive because they are not taken seriously."

She cited another study done in the 1970s of naturally occurring conversations in public places that found that 96 percent of the interruptions in the interactions were by males. She referred to the act of interruption by males as a "dominance device."

Another related piece of research, she added, studied the interactions of three couples and found the males to be successful in raising new topics in 28 of 29 attempts. Women were successful in 17 of 47 attempts.

"Women try to interrupt, but what do we wind up taking about? Whatever 'the guy' wants to talk about," she joked.

Ludwig noted that studies done since 1922 show that men in same-sex groups talk about business, sports, other men and technology, while women talk about men, clothing and relationships. "What is interesting," she added, "is that when women talk about these topics on the job, it's viewed as gossip."

Another difference, she added, is that women work harder to keep conversations going by back-channeling, a term used to describe indications people give to show that they really are paying attention, such as "um hmm," "oh" and "really?" Men do not engage in back-channeling nearly as much as women, according to Ludwig.

She also addressed the difference between men and women's construction of "personal space." Ludwig noted that while men in America claim much more personal space than women do, Americans claim much more personal space than other cultures.

To demonstrate how men tend to take up more personal space, Ludwig placed her hands behind her head. "What does this tell you?" she asked. "This says, 'I'm in charge. There's nothing you can tell me that I don't already know,'" she joked. "Have you seen women engage in this very often?" After the laughter died down, she added, "I rest my case."

Her tips for women: Be more direct. Speak up. Be ready with evidence and arguments. Look for ways to make controlled contributions.

For men, she advised: "Listen more actively. Acknowledge contents thoughtfully. You gain a great deal of mileage by listening and responding before you make a decision." She cited a relevant line from a Bob Dylan song: "The man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest."

Ludwig added that men ask fewer questions than women because they feel that they may give up some of their power and authority.

"Well I have to tell you this: Men do ask for directions. My husband says to me all the time, 'We don't know where we are; let's ask for directions. Here, roll down your window....'"

She told the men, "Try giving up a little power and you will gain a great deal of power."

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