Reading a couple of posts from Liz Lawley on gender and communication — the second of which points to an essay by Dan Spalding aimed at “other men in the movement” and designed to help men “act better in meetings” by learning the value of silence — has me thinking about whether or not my as yet embryonic typology of the kinds of “moves” people make in conversations might be useful in thinking about gender. Conversely, perhaps thinking about gender will be useful in reworking my typology.
For example, Liz writes:
I spend a lot of time watching the conversations that are taking place these days in weblogging, social software, and other technology contexts. Yes, there are a few women involved in the conferences and meetings. But their voices arenít the ones we usually hear about from the men. To be heardóto really be heardóa woman has to break the rules. She has to be outrageous.
I had written that the move of affirmation (e.g. I agree.) wasn’t a significant contribution to a conversation, but clearly this is too simplistic. The value of that move will depend on context. If you are participating in a conversation and feel that no one is really listening to you, when someone says Yes, I agree. Good point. then something significant has taken place, and your participation is validated to some extent, depending on who has done the affirming.
I think that participants in a conversation that contains several “moves” of acknowledgment, affirmation, bridging, and synthesis will feel more comfortable than they would in one that is characterized more by disagreement, challenge, diversion, or digression. Would we want to say that men (or at least unselfconsciously masculine men) are more likely to engage in the latter than the former? As if every conversation was a contest to be won? This would certainly be true if those kinds of moves are considered more “valuable” in a conversation than others, and if we assume that men are socialized (I’m anti-essentialist) to acquire more of what’s valuable than the other “players” in the conversation. I might want to rethink my model of conversation as game where individuals earn points for their contributions. What kind of model would reward more collaborative or generous behavior?
Obviously, one way to affirm or acknowledge what someone has said is to cite them in your blog, conference paper, or journal article. This is what Liz means when she says that women’s “voices arenít the ones we usually hear about from the men.” Hmm. Even disagreeing with someone in such a context is a means of affirming or acknowledging them, though, isn’t it? These moves are more complicated than they appear at first blush.
More thinking to be done…