Talking from 9 to 5: Women and Men in the Workplace: Language, Sex and Power


Your project went off without a hitch—but somebody else got the credit...You averted a crisis brilliantly—but no one noticed...You came to the meeting with a sensational idea—but it was ignored until someone else said the same thing...


In her extraordinary international bestseller, You Just Don't Understand, Deborah Tannen transformed forever the way we look at intimate relationships between women and ...

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Talking from 9 to 5

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Your project went off without a hitch—but somebody else got the credit...You averted a crisis brilliantly—but no one noticed...You came to the meeting with a sensational idea—but it was ignored until someone else said the same thing...


In her extraordinary international bestseller, You Just Don't Understand, Deborah Tannen transformed forever the way we look at intimate relationships between women and men. Now she turns her keen ear and observant eye toward the workplace—where the ways in which men and women communicate can determine who gets heard, who gets ahead, and what gets done.

An instant classic, Talking From 9 to 5 brilliantly explains women's and men's conversational rituals—and the language barriers we unintentionally erect in the business world. It is a unique and invaluable guide to recognizing the verbal power games and miscommunications that cause good work to be underappreciated or go unnoticed—an essential tool for promoting more positive and productive professional relationships among men and women.

The bestselling author of You Just Don't Understand and That's Not What I Meant enters the realm of the workplace and shows readers how they are too often foreigners to each other. Tannen maintains that there is no one style of speaking that is superior in all situations, fully recognizing that differences in gender, ethnicity, geography, class, and personality effect communication in the workplace.

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Editorial Reviews

Boston Globe
Her most intiguing work.
New York Times Book Review
Required and insightful...lively and straightforward...a novel and sometimes startling analysis of workplace dynamics.
New York Daily News
A necessary read...Tannen explains how women can bring authority to their conversational style without having to give up their individual voice.
Los Angeles Times
She is an authority on why communication fails at work and home. Tannen shows how deeply ingrained our sense of place is.
Christian Science Monitor
For anyone who has ever sat through a meeting at the office, this book has the ring of truth.
Boston Globe
Her most intiguing work.
New York Times Book Review
Required and insightful...lively and straightforward...a novel and sometimes startling analysis of workplace dynamics.
New York Daily News
A necessary read...Tannen explains how women can bring authority to their conversational style without having to give up their individual voice.
Los Angeles Times
She is an authority on why communication fails at work and home. Tannen shows how deeply ingrained our sense of place is.
Christian Science Monitor
For anyone who has ever sat through a meeting at the office, this book has the ring of truth.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This wise and widely informative book fulfills its promise to do for the workplace what Tannen's You Just Don't Understand has done for the home front-heighten the reader's perception of the ways in which gender, power structures and cultural constraints affect communication. Basing her discussion on extensive interviews with workers, managers and executives at a range of businesses, Tannen identifies-and decodes-various conversational ``rituals.'' For example, women tend to use the words ``I'm sorry'' as an ``expression of understanding-and caring''; but men generally interpret ``I'm sorry'' as an acceptance of blame. Tannen demonstrates that women, conditioned in childhood not to sound too self-confident, are likely to issue orders or implement plans indirectly (and therefore don't receive full recognition for their work); men, conditioned not to sound uncertain, may perceive requests for feedback as an admission of weakness. Offering clear explanations of various conversational ``styles,'' Tannen passes few judgments; rather, she offers readers a wider variety of strategies to express themselves. Filled with gracefully analyzed examples of job-related conversations, every page delivers a shock of recognition. Major ad/promo; author tour. (Oct.)
Library Journal
Tannen (You Just Don't Understand, Morrow, 1990) describes differences in men's and women's public communication as found within the business setting. These differences appear to influence actual perceptions of worker skills and abilities. For example, women say "I'm sorry" without actually apologizing and tend to use an indirect manner of speech. These styles make women appear less confident, competent, and professional. However, women who learn to speak like men are accused of being aggressive and unfeminine. Written for the general reader, Tannen's work is entertaining and filled with illustrative conversations. It raises many issues of concern to working women, from knocking against the glass ceiling to dealing with sexual harassment. Unfortunately, Tannen's research has not yet suggested any linguistic solutions. Highly recommended for general public and academic libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/15/94.]-Kathy Shimpock-Vieweg, O'Connor Cavanagh Lib., Phoenix
From Barnes & Noble
Examining communication in office settings, this book explores the implications of hierarchical relations and how conversational style differences are influenced by such factors as gender, ethnicity, geography, class, & personality. The author presents information that will have a dramatic impact on those who are struggling with co-workers, jobs, & companies, and will help individuals as well as companies thrive in a working world made up of increasingly diverse work forces & ever more competitive markets. Filled with real-life examples of speaking styles.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780380717835
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 9/28/1995
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 308,012
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.82 (d)

Meet the Author

Deborah Tannen is Professor of Linguistics at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. Her books include the New York Times bestsellers You Just Don't Understand, You're Wearing THAT?, Talking from 9 to 5, and You Were Always Mom's Favorite!. She has written for and been featured in numerous major newspapers and magazines, including the New York Times, Newsweek, USA Today, the Washington Post, and Time.


In 2001, Deborah Tannen published a book that explored the eternally complex relationship between men and women, specifically why communication can be so darn difficult between the sexes. You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation clearly struck a chord with its readers, spending nearly four years on the New York Times bestseller list (holding the No. 1 spot for eight weeks) and having been translated into 29 languages. Bolstered by Tannen's extensive experience as a linguist, You Just Don't Understand has played a significant role in improving relations between men and women throughout the world.

Tannen followed her breakthrough work with several others that have tackled the difficulties in improving communication on the job (Talking from 9 to 5: Women and Men at Work), the source of argumentativeness (The Argument Culture: Stopping America's War of Words), and general disagreements within families (I Only Say This Because I Love You). Now Tannen is turning her attention to improving communications between two groups that share one of the most complicated relationships of all: mothers and daughters.

You're Wearing That?: Understanding Daughters and Mothers in Conversation is yet another ambitious attempt to examine, understand, and resolve the long-standing communication difficulties that so often plague families. Tannen delineated the nature of the particularly thorny interactions between mothers and daughters in an article she recently wrote for The Washington Post. In her article, Tannen stated that "there is a special intensity to the mother-daughter relationship because talk -- particularly talk about personal topics -- plays a larger and more complex role in girls' and women's social lives than in boys' and men's. For girls and women, talk is the glue that holds a relationship together -- and the explosive that can blow it apart. That's why you can think you're having a perfectly amiable chat, then suddenly find yourself wounded by the shrapnel from an exploded conversation."

You're Wearing That? is her attempt to defuse such potential explosiveness, to get to the root of why daughters and mothers so often hit walls when relating to one another. Tannen's own strained relationship with her ailing mother was part of the impetus that caused her to begin asking the questions that this insightful book strives to answer. Along the way, she explored not only her own relationship with her mother but those of many others, as well. "I interviewed dozens of women of varied geographic, racial and cultural backgrounds," she explained in her article. "I had informal conversations or e-mail exchanges with countless others. The complaint I heard most often from daughters was, ‘My mother is always criticizing me.' The corresponding complaint from mothers was, ‘I can't open my mouth. She takes everything as criticism.' Both are right, but each sees only her perspective."

Once again, Tannen has proven her skills as a great communicator, and has penned another instant classic in the field of self-improvement. You're Wearing That? has already achieved bestseller status and inspired Miriam Wolf of the San Francisco Chronicle to call it "a book any mother would be proud her daughter wrote." Tannen should surely be proud that she has made such a significant and positive impact on those who have read her work.

Good To Know

Make no mistake: Deborah Tannen is not just another self-help guru. She has published an impressive body of work that includes 20 books and over 100 articles. She is also the recipient of five honorary doctorates.

Tannen may be most famous for her linguistics studies, but she has also published short stories, poems, personal essays, and plays. In fact, her first play, An Act of Devotion, was chosen for inclusion in The Best American Short Plays: 1993-1994.

The sage relationship advice that Tannen has imparted is not limited to the printed page. She has also lectured all over the world, once addressing an audience of U.S. senators and their spouses.

Some interesting outtakes from our interview with Tannen:

"I lived in Greece for several years; I speak Greek and consider Greece my second home. The first book I ever wrote was literary criticism about a modern Greek writer, Lilika Nakou."

"One of the most exciting experiences I have ever had was seeing a play I wrote produced by Horizons Theater in Washington, D.C. Another was having my play An Act of Devotion accepted and published in Best American Short Plays 1993-1994."

"I didn't start grad school in linguistics until I was 30. When I graduated from college, I had no ambitions other than to travel and not to go grad school. I worked for Metropolitan Life Insurance Company in Manhattan, lived with my parents in Brooklyn, and saved my money to go to Europe on a one-way ticket. My plan was to go around the world. But I got only as far as Greece, where I got a job teaching English. It was through teaching English as a second language that I first became aware of linguistics."

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    1. Hometown:
      Washington, D.C. metro area
    1. Date of Birth:
      June 7, 1945
    2. Place of Birth:
      Brooklyn, New York
    1. Education:
      B.A., Harpur College, 1966, Wayne State University, 1970; M.A. in Linguistics, UC Berkeley, 1976; Ph.D., 1979

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Women and Men Talking on the Job

Amy was a manager with a problem: She had just read a final report written by Donald, and she felt it was woefully inadequate. She faced the unsavory task of telling him to do it over.When she met with Donald, she made sure to soften the blow bybeginning with praise, telling him everything about his report thatwas good. Then she went on to explain what was lacking and whatneeded to be done to make it acceptable. She was pleased with thediplomatic way she had managed to deliver the bad news. Thanksto her thoughtfulness in starting with praise, Donald was able tolisten to the criticism and seemed to understand what was needed.But when the revised report appeared on her desk, Amy wasshocked. Donald had made only minor, superficial changes, and none of the necessary ones. The next meeting with him did not go well. He was incensed that she was now telling him his report was not acceptable and accused her of having misled him. "You told me before it was fine," he protested.

Amy thought she had been diplomatic; Donald thought she had been dishonest. The praise she intended to soften the message "This is unacceptable" sounded to him like the message itself: "This is fine." So what she regarded as the main point--the needed changes--came across to him as optional suggestions, because he had already registered her praise as the main point. She felt he hadn't listened to her. He thought she had changed her mind and was making him pay the price.

Work days are filled with conversations about getting the job done. Most of these conversations succeed, but too many end in impasses like this. It couldbe that Amy is a capricious boss whose wishes are whims, and it could be that Donald is a temperamental employee who can't hear criticism no matter how it is phrased. But I don't think either was the case in this instance. I believe this was one of innumerable misunderstandings caused by differences in conversational style. Amy delivered the criticism in a way that seemed to her self-evidently considerate, a way she would have preferred to receive criticism herself: taking into account the other person's feelings, making sure he knew that her ultimate negative assessment of his report didn't mean she had no appreciation of his abilities. She offered the praise as a sweetener to help the nastytasting news go down. But Donald didn't expect criticism to be delivered in that way, so he mistook the praise as her overall assessment rather than a preamble to it.

This conversation could have taken place between two women or two men. But I do not think it is a coincidence that it occurred between a man and a woman. This book will explain why. First, it gives a view of the role played by talk in our work lives. To do this, I show the workings of conversational style, explaining the ritual nature of conversation and the confusion that arises when rituals are not shared and therefore not recognized as such. I take into account the many influences on conversational style, but I focus in particular on the differing rituals that typify women and men (although, of course, not all individual men and women behave in ways that are typical). Conversational rituals common among men often involve using opposition such as banter, joking, teasing, and playful put-downs, and expending effort to avoid the one-down position in the interaction. Conversational rituals common among women are often ways of maintaining an appearance of equality, taking into account the effect of the exchange on the other person, and expending effort to downplay the speakers' authority so they can get the job done without flexing their muscles in an obvious way.

When everyone present is familiar with these conventions, they work well. But when ways of speaking are not recognized as conventions, they are taken literally, with negative results on both sides. Men whose oppositional strategies are interpreted literally may be seen as hostile when they are not, and their efforts to ensure that they avoid appearing one-down may be taken as arrogance. When women use conversational strategies designed to avoid appearing boastful and to take the other person's feelings into account, they may be seen as less confident and competent than they really are. As a result, both women and men often feel they are not getting sufficient credit for what they have done, are not being listened to, are not getting ahead as fast as they should.

When I talk about women's and men's characteristic ways of speaking, I always emphasize that both styles make sense and are equally valid in themselves, though the difference in styles may cause trouble in interaction. In a sense, when two people form a private relationship of love or friendship, the bubble of their interaction is a world unto itself, even though they both come with the prior experience of their families, their community, and a lifetime of conversations. But someone who takes a job is entering a world that is already functioning, with its own characteristic style already in place. Although there are many influences such as regional background, the type of industry involved, whether it is a family business or a large corporation, in general, workplaces that have previously had men in positions of power have already established male-style interaction as the norm. In that sense, women, and others whose styles are different, are not starting out equal, but are at a disadvantage. Though talking at work is quite similar to talking in private, it is a very different enterprise in many ways.


If conversational-style differences lead to troublesome outcomes in work as well as private settings, there are some work settings where the outcomes of style are a matter of life and death. Healthcare professionals are often in such situations. So are airline pilots.

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Table of Contents

Preface 11
A Note on Notes and Transcription 19
1 Women and Men Talking on the Job 21
2 "I'm Sorry, I'm Not Apologizing": Conversational Rituals 43
3 "Why Don't You Say What You Mean?": Indirectness at Work 78
4 Marked: Women in the Workplace 107
5 The Glass Ceiling 132
6 "She's the Boss": Women and Authority 160
7 Talking Up Close: Status and Connection 204
8 What's Sex Got to Do with It? 242
9 Who Gets Heard?: Talking at Meetings 276
Afterword 311
Notes 319
References 345
Index 361
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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 4, 2001

    Insightful, and interesting

    Deborah Tannen is THE source for information on interpersonal communication. In this book especially, she gives great insight into why many times the 'masculine' or commonly male style of communication is considered more effective in a workplace. For people that may have trouble communicating with co-workers or superiors at work, this book is for you.

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