View Full Version : That's Not What I Meant!

19-10-05, 15:58
Do you ever feel like people just don't get you? Or that something you mentioned gets you into an argument that escalates into a battle of wills? I'm reading a book about conversational styles (That's Not What I Meant! by Deborah Tannen) and it really got me into thinking about how I interpret what others say to me.

In her book, Tannen introduces conversational styles and how they can lead into misunderstandings. One of the key concepts in the book is that we interpret what we hear in the context of our own mental framework. That is,
if a person usually tends to be pretty straight forward about things, s/he will assume others will simply say if they want something instead of having to ask them. To some other person this kind of behaviour might seem rude.

Tannen gives an example where an Indian man studying in Britain is trying to get into a class. The class is full, so the teacher tells him that it's not possible for him to attend. The man repeats that he wants to attend the class, but this time he says it louder. The teacher is irritated by this and also raises his voice and the situation ends in an argument. The problem in this case lies in different ways of stressing importance/making things clearer to the other person: the Indian man is used to legitimase what he says by raising
his voice but the British tend to do this by repeating what has been said. So the teacher interprets raising voice as a sign of anger when the Indian man is simply trying to explain that he really should and needs to attend the class.

Another example is that women tend to make greater shifts in tone than men do, so women are interpreted as being too emotional.

The book has many intresting points in it and really made me think how I should consider the fact that maybe what I heard wasn't really meant the way I think it was. It's important to be aware of this kind of things when talking with people (be it your significant other, friend or
co-worker) and it may also help you solve problems. Still, I somehow get the impression from the book, even though it's not intended like this, that for example problems in close relationships can be easily explained by different conversational styles. It's true, but I started thinking that if someone's way of communication s completely different from yours, is it always worth it? You would constantly have to struggle to understand what the otherperson really means and then maybe get mix up everything...

Anyhow, I'd like to know if any of you have any thoughts on this. Do you think differences in conversational styles might have caused a major
problem in a past relationship you've had or for example when talking with someone who comes from a different country/culture? Do you think this kind of problems can be easily solved or is it sometimes better to just let it be and find someone else with whom to talk?

19-10-05, 16:28
i'd say yeah! im very misunderstood....but it doesn't bother its plan to be like that.

19-10-05, 16:32
Sounds like a very interesting book! I have been in a few relationships where the 'communication' has caused problems, both sides blaming culture, lack of language skills etc.
When I first came to Korea, and I would try to get my point across about something, I would try maybe 2-3 times, then get embarrassed and leave. Now I wait, and I explain in every way possible, until I get what I want, or needed, or understand what is being said.
I guess im a little more patient than a lot of people I know who have been in similar situations as me.
Even language barriers in a restaurant I used to work in, I would end up with all of the Asian guests, because nobody else had the patience to try and understand them.
Sometimes I was even called out to other restaruants in the same building, to do translations, which ended up just being very basic.

20-10-05, 18:03
It sounds like it has some interesting ideas. Too bad a lot of people don't keep things like this in mind when dealing with other people. What you say and how you say it can mean many different thing to many different people. A lot of it depending on how or where there were raised or what's happened to them in their life. How many disagreements would be avoided if we stopped for a minute to ask them what they meant.