In this case, it's style over substance

In my quest to gain more knowledge and wisdom about friendship and belonging, I've been reading some more books.

An intriguing title I picked up at my local (wonderful) library is by Deborah Tannen - That's Not What I Meant. She's a linguist who argues that conversational style can make or break your relations with others.

Think about someone you've recently met for the first time. What was your impression of that person? Did he appear intelligent? Overbearing? Perhaps a little dull, or just shy and polite.

Tannen's argument is that conversational style sends out signals that most people read as character signals. But the two may not match up.

For example, people speak at different speeds. People from a slow-talking area (out in the country?) think that fast-talkers (from the city?) are overbearing. But fast-talkers think slow-talkers are stupid.

Slow-talkers think of themselves as polite and laid-back. Fast-talkers think of themselves as smart and efficient.

Conversational style is not just about speed. It involves volume, intonation, choice of words and timing.

When we chat to people, we usually think in terms of intentions (are they rude, polite, interested?) and character (she’s nice, he’s not).

But Tannen's book turns this on its head. She says that many instances of rudeness, stubbornness, inconsiderateness or refusal to cooperate are really caused by differences in conversational style.

And if we knew a little more about our own style, compared with the style of others, a lot of miscommunications and relationship difficulties could be avoided.