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What Women Talk About

Women talk about everything and anything. You name it.

Women talk about everything and anything. You name it. Women will reveal their insecurities, their latest diet, the trials of their uterus, their dreams the list goes on. Any topic is fair game. Two women strangers sitting next to each other on a two-hour plane ride will arrive at their destination knowing how many children each has, their marital troubles, any school dilemmas, and what kind of birth control they each use.

Another popular chick topic is the blues. Women talk freely about their troubles personnel or personal. They’re not afraid to discuss fears or self-doubts. “Get me out of here,” men scream. “Geez, I don’t want to hear it.”

Chick topics are the same ingredients as “chick flicks.” Why do you think Sex and the City was so popular among women and loathed among men? When the movie came out, men all but hid under couches to avoid it. But it was like home for women, where they could laugh at Miranda’s overgrown bikini line (“Jesus, honey? Wax much?”) and empathize over Carrie’s broken heart. And the movie’s biggest problem: when Miranda didn’t tell Carrie something. Alas! That’s so not okay among girlfriends.

No male version of Sex and the City exists, and moreover, there’s no demand for one. Men tend to talk about safetopics: sports, finances, and work. Can you imagine two men discussing their qualms with Viagra? Yeah, right. The level of disclosure is higher among women than men.

In one of our training programs, one woman said she talked to her sister on the phone for an hour, and when she was done, her husband exclaimed, “You just talked to your sister about nothing for an hour!” Those “nothing” topics? Her aging parents, the trials of raising teenagers, and at what house they would spend the holidays. Not her husband’s favorite topics. Not to mention an hour-long phone call. But for women, this is the stuff of life.

Psychologist and corporate consultant Dr. Judith Tingley once described the differences in women and men’s conversation topics. It stemmed from a sailing lesson she took with four men and a male instructor. In Tingley’s words: “The majority of the conversation centered on business and money. There was no discussion of people, feelings, or relationships. No one mentioned a wife, a child, a brother or sister, a mother or father. The conversation was almost totally about each individual man and what he had done or seen or been, relative to sports, business, or money. Men are private about anything having to do with relationships, feelings, and emotions. They usually only disclose to significant others the private aspects of their lives.”

You’ll Never Guess What Happened to Me Today

In Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office 101, Lois Frankel says women need to practice beginning their sentences with declarative “I” statements, such as “I think,” “I feel,” “I believe,” “I intend,” and “I need.” Women often feel the need to almost trick the listener into listening to them. Instead of tricking the listener, women need to use the more assertive “I,” taking ownership and putting opinions on the table. No behind-the-scenes strategy.

Do Women Talk Like Little Girls?

This brings us to another common linguistic pattern that women and children share: They tend to use “attention beginnings” to bait the listener. For example: “You’re not going to believe this,” “D’ya know what?” and “I had a crazy thing happen on the way to work today.” These intros sound like teasers on television news programs: “Stay tuned because you don’t want to miss the next report!”

It seems like women need to coax the listener’s attention. A woman simply cannot get the floor and gain the listening ear unless she entices the listener.

Women and men are two different speech communities. From the college classroom to the corporate world, women typically use forms of speech that you rarely hear from men, such as “qualifiers,” embedded with disclaimers.

Disclaimers are apologies and excuses that women offer before they make a point. Women use this to distance themselves from the claim they are about to make rather than take ownership for it. After all, if a woman is wrong or someone doesn’t like it, hey, she warned you first don’t hold it against her. Disclaimers are a form of protection, as well as an apology for speaking.

A classic qualifier sounds something like this: “Um, I don’t know if this is a good idea (disclaimer), but I thought we could (hypothetical, not a direct request)” or “This probably sounds stupid (disclaimer), but I thought one way we could handle this (once again, just a suggestion).” Starting a sentence like this pads it with unnecessary verbiage.

This is a strategy to make an idea more acceptable to the listener, but in the process women, pull the rug out from underneath their own credibility. As soon as others hear the words, “This might be stupid," they disengage. If you think it’s stupid, don’t waste our time with it. They write off the idea and the speaker. They don’t listen.

Many men agree: Women can’t just say something; they need to say something before they say it.

When women qualify their statements, they do sound less categorical, making them less likely to offend the listener. Qualifiers have their place. Use qualifiers when you want to convey politeness, connection, or thoughtfulness. However, a word of warning: If use you qualifiers too much, they become your crutch. And when you need to take a strong stance, this crutch will get in the way. Listeners will view you as too soft. You don’t sound authoritative, and you have diminished your credibility.

We once had a woman in a seminar ask why men sound like they know it all. She went on to say that men talk with such authority and certainty that no one would think to question them.

This is taking charge. A man like this is assertive and acts confident, even when he’s uncertain. He has learned the lesson that you must fake it until you make it. And his image is on the line. For men, these verbal efforts at control start when they’re young boys.

More from Audrey Nelson Ph.D.
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