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Rapport-talk vs Report-talk: Gender Communication

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“Why don’t you just _____, I think it will make things better”.

“Are you saying that it’s my fault?”

“No, I’m just offering advice”

“I never once asked for advice!”

Ever been in a situation where you just needed someone to listen, but instead got bombarded with solutions? If so, you’re not alone.

After a challenging day at work, seeking solace from a partner often involves seeking a sympathetic ear and emotional support. However, this may lead to miscommunication if one partner interprets it as a request for advice, offering solutions instead. This mismatch in communication styles can leave one feeling unheard while confusing the other about their missteps.

According to Professor Deborah Tannen, men and women have different conversational styles.

Tannen suggests that women often use “rapport-talk,” aiming to foster social bonds and emotional intimacy, whereas men tend to use “report-talk,” prioritising the exchange of information devoid of emotional emphasis. These differences in communication styles can therefore lead to misunderstandings between genders.

In conversations, women often seek empathy, while men tend to offer solutions. It’s like they’re speaking different languages, even though they’re talking about the same thing.

How should this difference be approached?

Next time you feel misunderstood, ponder if your partner is sincerely trying to assist but may have misconstrued your emotions, offering solutions instead. And if someone seems hurt by your response, reflect on whether they’re seeking sympathy rather than a solution.

Another way to manage this is to prime your partner about what you are expecting from him/her.  Is this a conversation to share information, to exchange views, to seek advice or support?

Recognising the differences is an essential first step for resolving them. In moments of misunderstanding, it’s easy to perceive each other’s intentions as unreasonable or even malicious. However, understanding that men and women may perceive and interpret things differently allows us to acknowledge and discuss the distortions we encounter. Through open dialogue, we pave the way for mutual understanding and clarity.

If you would like to speak to a counsellor, reach out to us via [email protected] or call us at 62355229. We provide free counselling for couples.  Alternatively, approach Family Assist Online Counselling services for live web chat counselling (live chat), phone counselling (arranged through live chat) and email counselling at https://familyassist.msf.gov.sg/content/resources/programmes/online-counselling/

Written by: Joycelyn Ong, Intern, Fei Yue Community Services


Gender Issues: Communication Differences in Interpersonal Relationships. (n.d.). Ohioline. Retrieved March 15, 2024, from https://ohioline.osu.edu/factsheet/FLM-FS-4-02-R10

Wikipedia contributors. (2023, November 30). You Just Don’t Understand. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 15:33, March 14, 2024, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=You_Just_Don%27t_Understand&oldid=1187690902