Georgetown University linguistics professor Deborah Tannen wrote a book about how men and women have different communication styles. First published back in 1991, the book You Just Don’t Understand is about how women prefer to make emotional connections when they communicate and men just like to share knowledge. The book is filled with plenty of caveats about how she’s not stereotyping but is speaking in generalizations and she has plenty of research and studies to back it all up.
I loved the book and found it to be both believable and credible. It certainly fits the bill with myself. I can’t seem to let anything come out of my mouth without a bit of sentiment or emotion attached to it. Perhaps it’s a good thing Sgt. Joe Friday never had to question me. Just the facts? What fun is there in that? What do facts tell you?
One of Tannen’s areas of focus concerns complaining. She claims that often when women complain about a problem, they do so as a cathartic means to an end: they are venting simply to get it off their chests. Most women will respond with understanding and even with empathetic examples to show how they understand the pain and aggravation. Most men, on the other hand, will respond with ways to solve the problem whether or not the woman asked for a solution.
I think it would be interesting if Prof. Tannen followed up her seminal work with one on email dialogue. There is a definite line drawn in the sand distinguishing the emails written by women from those written by men, particularly when it comes to complaining and venting. I have never had a man send a complaint or a vent to me for any reason. Ever. But I have loads from women. Not complaining about me. Just complaining.
In fact, on a daily basis I have a couple of friends from whom I often get just one line, maybe two. Just a quick phrase that if anyone were reading over my shoulder, they’d think the rest of the email was lost or that the “sent” button was clicked in haste and the email was unfinished. I know better, as I’ve shot similar emails to those same people.
Perhaps we’re creating a new phenomena: e-venting. Sometimes we do it because a thought popped into our heads and it feels like we’ll explode unless we let it out. Sometimes we do it for comic relief because it’s hard to believe the loonier experiences in our lives. Sometimes we do it to make sure we are indeed sane, because only sane people would feel that way, right? And sometimes it’s because it just feels like someone’s listening and if you have children at home you know there are times when all you want, all you need, is to know that someone actually recognizes your attempts to communicate and understands what you’re saying.
In essence, we do it for the detoxification benefits. As long as we’re careful about checking the “to” box, there’s always a momentary pause in the chaos of our lives when we click “send.” We relax in the knowledge that the universe has taken away our angst. We’ve sent the negativity that was bundled up inside ourselves out into the electronic ethers. And miracle of miracles, our stress levels drop. Until we’re given more fodder.