The Wonders of Communication Between Those Closest to You
In That’s Not What I Meant! Deborah Tannen uses personal experience and observation to explain a variety of conversational styles and how they lead to misunderstandings. By using her own experiences and giving easy to follow examples, Tannen clearly explains why she believes there is so much confusion between people when it comes to communication. Throughout each chapter, she discusses different characteristics of conversation and describes how and when the different characteristics come into play. Through her many explanations, she is hoping to teach people that because each individual has a different conversational style, quarrels are bound to arise but can easily be remedied. Tannen uses a non-intimidating approach which results in her audience gaining a sense of understanding and relief that they are not alone in the world of miscommunication. She begins the book with her own personal story of going through a divorce, and how it was almost entirely due to her and her husband’s inability to effectively communicate. Her decision of starting this book with a personal story, and showing that she too suffers from the difficulty of conversational styles, immediately lets the reader know that they should not be alarmed if they are able to relate to everything they read. Tannen shows that communication is a challenge for everyone, especially when dealing with cross-cultural conversation, male and female conversation, and even what she calls the intimate critic; however, Tannen insists that instead of getting frustrated over it, it is better to understand that we all have a different style of speaking, listening, and understanding. According to Tannen, cross-cultural conversation has the highest danger of miscommunication between those who speak different languages “or come from different cultural backgrounds, because cultural differences necessarily implies different assumptions about natural and obvious ways to be polite” (41). She states that “culture is simply a network of habits and patterns gleaned from past experiences” (133), so individuals from different cultures have to have different past experiences, which then lead to the differences in communication between one another. A great example that Tannen uses in her book is that of an American woman in England who was offended when the British ignored her when she believed they should have acknowledged her. This American woman was sitting in a booth of a railroad cafeteria, when a British couple suddenly settled themselves in the same booth opposite to her. The couple unloaded their luggage as the man asked his partner what she would like to eat and left to retrieve it, while the woman stayed to smoke a cigarette. This whole time the couple took no notice that someone was already sitting in the booth, so the American woman began to search for a different booth to move to. Unfortunately, there was no more open seating. The British woman acknowledged the American woman, put her cigarette out, and apologized, but as soon as her partner returned with their meal they both continued to ignore her. The American woman was enraged with the British couple’s omission of talk and thought of it as dreadful rudeness. To her, politeness would be some sort of talk between herself and the British couple who she was forced to share a booth with. Even a simple “’Do you mind if I sit down?’ or a conventional, ‘Is anyone sitting here?’ even if it’s obvious no one is” (42). For the British couple, not acknowledging her presence was a way of freeing the American woman of the obligation of having to acknowledge theirs. To the American woman and the British couple, being polite were two completely different actions. My family was placed in a similar situation a few years ago when I invited my friend Sarah over for dinner. I am of Mexican ethnicity, and both my parents are very traditional. At home we are not allowed to talk...
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