Gender Difference in Dialogue

Deborah Tannen

Scholarly research in the area of  gender differences have distilled an important mental frame that women bring to dialogue.

Sociolinguist and author, Deborah Tannen, writes, “women tend to focus on the question, Is this conversation bringing us closer or pushing us apart? On the other hand, men tend to focus on the question, Is this conversation putting me in a one-up or one-down position?”

Deborah Tannen, “Contrite Makes Right,” Civilization (April/May 1999): 69.

Apology: A cross-cultural analysis of British English, Polish, and Russian

Apology cross-culture

In my earlier post, I indicated that an effective apology is simple. Yet, in reflection, I should have prefaced that descriptor. There is a level of elegant complexity to the act of apologizing. A truly effective apology is a process and not an event. It is a dialogue between two or more individuals.

Social or cultural norms define the acceptable or polite linguistic forms that represent an apology. Researchers have coined the term illocutionary force indicating devices (IFIDs) to identify statements made in the context of an offensive situations that are intended to restore relationships. An IFID is a statement that explicitly says I want to restore your honour.

The table below presents a granular look at research findings on the use of culture specific statements (devices). The statements are associated with making an apology by speakers of British English, Polish, and Russian within their respective countries. .

I have highlighted the most often used devices by each language group.  Native english speakers tended to favour “expression of regret”, while Russian speakers tended to favor “request for forgiveness”. Researchers suggest that the differences in preference is due to cultural values and can dictate whether the apology is received as a sincere or honest expression.

Forms of apology

Polish and Russian cultural values tend to favor directness and place a heavy importance on referring to the offense in a straightforward way. In Anglo-Saxon cultures, indirectness is associated with politeness. An elaborate apology filled with hedging, sidestepping, and tentative remarks, that might be considered polite in an Anglo-Saxon culture, would be perceived as dishonest, a waste of time, and insincere by Russian and Polish speakers.

The main takeaway is that the potential for cross-cultural clash when seeking to keep up or restore social equilibrium in an offensive situation is great. An English speaker’s apology that lacks a direct reference to the offense might be perceived as less polite and therefore a non apology by a speaker of Polish or Russian because of their dominant cultural beliefs and biases.

In my opinion, it does not mean though that one has to make a radical departure from one’s way of apologising in a cross-cultural context. It does mean that one should not view an apology as a simple statement, but an ongoing dialogue in which both parties, ideally, are striving to make sure that each person’s wants and needs are met. It is a process that has a beginning and ends when both parties are on the same page, because one or both have acknowledge the cultural bias behind what constitutes a sincere apology.

In my next post I will look at the rationale for using three other forms: 1) offering to repair the damage; 2) promising not to offend again; and 3) expressing concern for the person offended.

The above table is from: On Apologising in Negative and Positive Politeness Cultures by Eva Ogiermann (p. 103)