Men are from Mars, women are from Venus.

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Our writers answer some of the commonest queries. We assume women talk more than men. Today scientific study has even found the odd bit of evidence that girls may indeed find it easier to acquire language than boys. It depends on the context.

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So you're not a "10" in every which way.


I got a shoutout from Rush Limbaugh. He was right — but not about meetings.

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In a now-classic study, Barbara and Gene Eakins recorded seven university faculty meetings. They found that, with one exception, the men at the meeting spoke more often and, without exception, spoke longer. The longest comment by a woman at all seven gatherings was shorter than the shortest comment by a man. Susan Herring found a similar pattern in online discussions among linguists on professional topics: Messages written by men were, on average, twice as long as those written by women.

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For similar reasons, when they talk in a formal setting, many women try to take up less verbal space by being more succinct, speaking in a lower voice and speaking in a more tentative way. Women in my classes at Georgetown University have told me that if they talk a lot in class one week, they will intentionally keep silent the next. Psychologist Elizabeth Aries observed a similar pattern in comparing the participation of women and men in college discussion groups.

Even Margaret Mead, according to her daughter Mary Catherine Batesonjudiciously chose the issues on which she would speak up, so as not to come across as dominating. If they talk in ways associated with authority, they can be seen as too aggressive, and subject to the damning labels so readily applied to them.

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Click the link to confirm your subscription and begin receiving our newsletters. If you don't get the confirmation within 10 minutes, please check your spam folder. As part of my research, I sat in on a meeting at a large corporation and took detailed notes on who said what.

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But as I typed out my own notes the next day, I was surprised to discover my impression was wrong. Almost all the key suggestions had originated with someone else — a woman. My notes also revealed how I was led astray: The man had spoken at greater length in support of her ideas than she had in raising them.

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I asked each one, privately, who they thought had most influenced the group. The two other women named the woman who had come up with the ideas adopted, but all the men named the man who had spoken in favor of those ideas — except that man himself. He named the woman. She herself did not feel that he had stolen her ideas.

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It would be misleading to imply that women tend to talk less at meetings entirely by choice. Two dramatic examples of this were recently spotlighted.

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Earlier this month, as the New York Times reported, the lone woman on a panel of physicists was ignored for the first hour ; when the moderator finally asked her a question about her area of expertise, he quickly talked over her, offering his own view of her theories. Days later, Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris of California was repeatedly interrupted by male colleagues during two different senate hearings. In my first book, based on my doctoral dissertation, I showed that interruption is actually the doing of two people: one who begins speaking, and one who stops.

It only becomes an interruption when the first speaker stops. I got insight into how this can lead to women being interrupted more in a conversation with a man who sailed competitively.

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Seeking an opening to get the floor at a meeting is a parallel challenge, and the chances of succeeding may similarly go up if the current speaker is a woman. In unstructured mixed-sex groups, young women were interrupted more. There the pattern, and the problem, is the opposite: In public forums, women tend to talk less, and — to the detriment of everyone involved — their ideas, insights and perspectives are less likely to be heard.

Deborah Tannen is a professor of linguistics at Georgetown University. Parts of this piece are adapted from her book Talking from 9 to 5: Women and Men at Work. at letters time.

The fascinating history behind the damaging stereotype.

Getty Images. By Deborah Tannen. Up Now. An unexpected error has occurred with your up. Each product we feature has been independently selected and reviewed by our editorial team. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission. Related Stories. You have reached your limit of 4 free articles. Already a print subscriber?

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