Conversational Style


What better way to learn about “mansplaining” than from two guys who do it for a living? What started as a joke led Frank and Ian down a rabbit hole of linguistics, conversational style, gender differences, and some incredible research from Deborah Tannen.

In this episode:

  •     Geographic differences and the varying ways we take turns
  •     How our conversational style is developed as youth
  •     The differences in play between boys and girls
  •     Credit-grabbing and promotions
  •     Who speaks in “I” vs. “We”
  •     Should I ask questions in group settings?
  •     Do you apologize too much?
  •     Should I boast in public?

Watch the episode here

Listen to the podcast here

Is Conversational Style Holding Back Your Career?

The “Mansplaining” Episode

This episode was born from a word that Frank’s wife, Eli, used to describe half of our arguments when she tells me that I’m mansplaining her. We initially were going to make fun of it but as we dove deeper into it, we found the topic quite interesting and it went much deeper than the idea of mansplaining. What better place could you go to than two middle-aged White dudes to go learn about the difference in conversational style and linguistics between men and women? You are in the right place. Let me tell you. We are ready to mansplain our way through this episode and we may even surprise you with some of our findings. If you are new to this, please subscribe. If you are a long-time audience and you have not given us that review, shame on you.

Ian and I thought this was going to be a fast episode or just a topic amongst another episode. I walked into the kitchen because I’m still in quarantine health from COVID. I’ve got my wife who has a PhD in Linguistics who brings up mansplaining all the time to Ian and me. The first place Ian ever heard mansplaining was from my wife. She went into a womansplaining session and told Ian and me all of the inner workings of mansplaining, and we ended up with a very dense agenda. Thanks to my wife.

To Elizabeth Cava’s credit, I learned the word mansplaining from her at a time where she thought I was mansplaining. If you don’t know what mansplaining is, I’m going to give you the definition that I found in some half-assed research on Google, “Mansplaining is the explanation of something by a man typically to a woman in a manner regarded as condescending or patronizing.” Initially, Frank and I were going to do a short fifteen-minute episode without an outline where we were just going to rail against this as a bunch of liberal freaking garbage.

We were going to say, “That’s bullshit.” Women talk over men all the time and men talk over men all the time. This is just male bashing bull crap. Everyone does this. All this is, is someone who doesn’t have enough emotional intelligence to not talk over somebody or know that they are not talking to someone who’s an expert. Screw all of you liberal bastards who came up with this stupid term. There is no such thing as mansplaining.

I tend to not even get into intellectual conversations with your wife because 1) She’s smarter than me. 2) She reads more than me. 3) She seldom gets into an argument that she’s not willing to die for so she normally outlasts me in most fights, even I’ve got better facts. 4) I never have better facts so the only way to beat her is by mansplaining. 5) She then tells me I’m mansplaining. In this case, she was not argumentative. She got on a Zoom call with me and very intelligently explained some of the back histories of it. Rather than getting into mansplaining, your wife enlightened both of us on a concept of conversational style.

This is something that wasn’t on our agenda. We hadn’t thought too deeply about it. There is an author by the name of Deborah Tannen that Eli asked us to go do a little research on. At the end of this, she spent fifteen minutes summarizing it for Frank and me because we are cavemen and we need her to use words without many syllables so we asked her to very quickly explain it like you were talking to a six-year-old but at the end, she said, “I would go watch this on TED Talk or YouTube.” Both of us said, “That would take too long. We just want to mansplain our way through this.”

I want to bring this part up. My wife and I had been together for many years. She has brought home two books from Deborah Tannen. She’s a well-known author. The article that we are going to talk about on this show was written and published in October of 1995. I was twenty. To put this in perspective, it was a long time ago.

Deborah Tannen is a Professor at Georgetown. My wife studied under Deborah Tannen when she was getting her PhD in Linguistics, which Deborah Tannen and Steven Pinker are the only two people you ever hear of that are linguists that are fairly prominent. The other part of this that’s fascinating is she’s brought home two books. I have read neither of them. I said, “Why don’t you explain these to me?”

Her two biggest books are That’s Not What I Meant! and You Just Don’t Understand. Eli was telling us that 1995 would have been right around the time that she was doing her first dissertation, which was on linguistic style. Mansplaining is a cute way of explaining when men are a little bit too aggressive or assume that the person they are talking to is not intelligent. Another cute way of saying it is manterrupting, which is another thing that Frank and I were going to go off on and say that’s stupid because women interrupt men all the time. I have lived this in my life. We were also going to say that men interrupt men and women interrupt women.

LMSM 57 | Conversational Style

Conversational Style: Mansplaining is the explanation of something by a man, typically to a woman in a manner regarded as condescending or patronizing.


If we look at the basics of it, linguistic style refers to a person’s characteristics speaking patterns. Its features are like how direct are you? How indirect are you? What’s your pace? What pauses do you use? What’s your word choice? Elements of conversation like jokes, figures of speech, stories, questions, apologies and all of those things. Gender plays a role but before we get into gender, which is at the heart of what we are going to talk about, linguistic style can also have a lot to do with geography, where people live and what they do.

That’s something that Eli was also getting into the details a little bit with us, the difference of how someone might talk in Mississippi versus California versus New York. A New Yorker is going to speak faster. They are going to interrupt each other more frequently but that’s not considered rude. That’s considered their style where they are pounding each other with lots of little questions and checking for acceptance a lot. If someone from New York is talking to someone from Texas, they might think of them as less intelligent or interested because someone from that area is not going to speak that way.

They are going to listen a little bit longer and going to pause longer before they speak so they might not get much conversation in. There’s a big difference in different geographies. The way Deborah Tannen explains it is Sally relocates from Texas to Washington, DC looking for a new job and she can’t break in the way she was in Texas. Part of the reason is in Texas, she was considered outgoing and confident but in Washington, DC, she’s perceived as shy and retiring, even to the point where her boss suggests taking an assertive training course when it’s a difference of linguistic style, nothing to do with her assertiveness. It’s the way things are perceived in a different area. Frank, we are talking about Californians talking to you when you go out to your masterminds.

When I go to California or out West, a lot of people always say, “You are so East Coast.” I’m so East Coast because I’m a little bit gruffer and more aggressive in style. I grew up around a ton of people that grew up in New York so I’m fairly accustomed to speaking to people where there are high stakes. It’s interruptive and not pause-driven so that’s a big part of it. What he ended in in his intro, which is a good thing, we were going to get into mansplaining and joke about it. What we did instead is we looked at it and realized mansplaining is something much deeper.

Linguistic style is a part of it, which my wife brought up but there are other components to it. We are going to get into a bunch of other things. In one of the short episodes that we released, what we talked about was Jerry Seinfeld. There was a commercial that ran in the ‘90s and early 2000s about Jerry Seinfeld using jokes that were in for America and when he used them in Britain, they flopped.

At the end of the commercials, he’s using all these things that are British slang and everybody is laughing because he’s Jerry Seinfeld but what’s deeper than that, style is something that comes up along with content. We don’t put a lot of emphasis on style. We use jargon, short-term words, and abbreviations, which confuse people but we don’t put much around the geography or the style. Ian and I were enlightened on this topic because we thought we had a topic but it turns out we have multiple topics.

As people who promote themselves as good managers and leaders, as we read through this, we realized these are the things we thought we never had the vocabulary for, we witnessed and didn’t understand and we see taking place all the time. We have statistics at the end that will back this up. In the half-ass, they are in a research department but one of the things that Ian mentioned in his life of a mortgage is it’s a lot of women more than men. Compared to homebuilding where it’s the side I was on, is more men and how different those sides of businesses run.

In general, I had more talented women to choose from in the finance sector than you did in real estate, which is intended to be more men. We worked for a top-five homebuilding company in the country and out of 70 Division Managers, which is a Vice President position, most of the time there are 1 or 2. They didn’t make it up to that position.

Perceptions and misperceptions of men that are running the companies hold women back. Click To Tweet

In the amount of time that we studied this, I saw a lot of things that were holding women back, which were perceptions and misperceptions of the men that are running those companies but also some things that they could probably change if they knew that about themselves and the way others were perceiving them. This started as a joke and it became something where we were like, “We don’t know much about this. We need to dive in.” I have learned quite a bit by preparing for this outline. It’s pretty fascinating.

One thing Eli talked about in the concept of mansplaining is the element in the linguistic style of turn-taking. When I say turn-taking, typically in a conversation, people take turns. This entire episode is a clash of two linguistic styles. Frank and I are relatively close. We are friends. The more time we spend together, the more alike we are. I talk, then Frank talks. One person responds, I respond. Sometimes Frank is not paying attention. I pause and I have to say, “Frank, you should talk.” Most of the time he understands that when I’m not talking for 1 second or 2, it’s his turn. That’s the way it works.

As we are going to talk about interruptions, with the two of us being wired the way that we are, we are often saying, “Would you stop fucking talking so I can make my point now? I’ve got a good point. I want this to be a clip.”

I brought this up to Eli. I said, “This whole mansplaining thing, Frank and I talk all the time and we are always interrupting each other. You’ve got to read one of us doing an episode and the two of us are fighting over who gets the microphone sometimes because both of us have an idea and we want to get it out there. We are afraid we are going to lose it so we interrupt each other. That’s our style.

One of us is not a female. That’s what we do with each other.” She had some good points and we will dive into some of them but in that turn-taking, you take someone from Florida. You send them to New York and they have a conversation with someone. It might be hard for them to get a word in edgewise because of that slight pause that they are used to, the New Yorker feels very uncomfortable when that pause comes up so they want to fill it as quickly as they can.

It’s interesting. I saw a lot of this when I first started right out of college. I was on a leadership program, which meant I’ve got to fly around all over the countryside. I would be in South Carolina one week, Oregon next, New York and then Missouri. I saw this big time, whereas if you would meet with a high-level person in Georgia and you would go have lunch, you are not supposed to talk business the first twenty minutes. It was slow.

I had to fight myself to not talk because sometimes I would ask a question and they would think for 3 or 4 seconds, whereas in DC, you don’t do that. It’s weird. You think something is wrong or want to repeat the question because that person must not have heard me if they are pausing that long. A lot of that is different linguistic styles by region. By far, the biggest differences in linguistic style are gender-based.

Before we get into gender, I want to say something else. We understand that when you are looking at different countries, they have different styles. I’m a big fan of Mad Men. He doesn’t like it as much as I do but Mad Men takes place in the ‘60s. One of the protagonists in the story has a problem with Japan and Korea because he fought in World War II and the Korean War. The point of this is they ended up doing business with both Japanese and Korean countries. It’s because of the war element, there was never the pause for the respect that you would give to most normal people.

Conversational Style: Linguistic style can also have a lot to do with geography.


This guy butchered his way through a meeting and it was painful but the point is we understand when we are dealing with different countries that have very different cultures but sometimes what we don’t stop to realize, especially when we were young, is these things are also geographic, even in the US. The rest of the world is all the same. Ian’s point of a meeting in rural Georgia versus Atlanta is very different. The conversational style on a farm in rural Georgia and 100 miles away in Atlanta take on very different tones and tacks.

You can be a ball in both instances but if you are trying to get a sale, manage someone and succeed in business, we always talk about having to have more than just one pitch. This is when you need to have more than one pitch. Inside of our own country, even in the same state, it’s a matter of making sure you understand the ground you are on and you are providing the right type of communication for the situation you are in.

Do you ever listen to Eli talking about something where she’s trying to find the most politically correct way to explain something to a group of girls that she’s not in on? Let’s say they all want to go to a restaurant and she doesn’t want to go to that restaurant. My wife will do this all the time. I will say, “Why don’t you just say that the restaurant sucks. I don’t like it.” She would be like, “I’m not a boy. That’s what you would do.” I’m like, “Why not? Tell them that.”

She’s like, “That might hurt some people’s feelings that suggested the restaurant in the first place.” I’m like, “Then what?” She’s like, “There are hard feelings for a while.” I’m like, “Guys are so different. We will assert ourselves like, ‘That place sucks. I don’t like that place. We are not going there. That’s a dumb idea.’” No one takes it personally but girls are so different. Understand that everything I’m going to say largely comes from this one linguist researcher that we have studied all of her work.

These are generalizations. This is not saying that there are no exceptions but in general, children learn their linguistic style from their groups of friends at a very young age, not so many parents, that they interact with. In general, boys play with boys and girls play with girls. There are exceptions but I can say that was how Frank and I grew up and how my kids are growing up. I see this everywhere.

Boys play on the boys’ sports team. Girls play on girls’ sports teams. Girls hang out with other girls on the block. They learn certain styles at a very early age. Sociologists, anthropologists, and psychologists study the way children communicate. They find that there are very different ways in which girls and boys build rapport and negotiate status. For the most part, your linguistic style is in place by the time you are done with high school. This all happens very early and it’s hard to change any of it for the rest of your life.

I would argue. It’s even before the end of high school. Some of this stuff is pre-kindergarten or adolescence, for sure.

A hundred percent elementary school. Girls tend to learn their rituals focusing on the rapport dimension of relationships, whereas boys tend to learn rituals that focus on the status dimension. Think about the alpha male in a wolf pack of men. That’s how boys operate. A group of girls, in general, will ostracize a girl who calls attention to her own superiority and they will criticize her saying she thinks she’s all that. A girl who tells others what to do, who’s a little too directive, “This is what we are doing,” is considered bossy. Girls learn to talk in ways that balance their needs with those of the groups.

Thus, my wife, trying to be overly polite about saying, “I don’t like that restaurant.” Half the time, she will go to the restaurant to keep the status quo because it seems like the group wants to do it, whereas a boy wouldn’t think twice about saying, “I don’t like that place.” On the opposite side, boys who hang out in groups never accuse each other of being bossy because the leader in a group is expected to tell lower-status boys what to do.

Children learn their linguistic style from their groups of friends from a very young age. Click To Tweet

Boys learn to use language to negotiate their status in a group by displaying their abilities, skills, knowledge, challenging others, resisting challenges and giving orders. Everything’s about status. You’re either one up or one down. They tell jokes and stories. They brag a little bit. Boys are very physical in how they express themselves, especially in sports.

Boys tend to follow the best athlete that tends to be pretty good. That’s how they show off. We must start with that because almost everything else we are going to get into in this outline is based on social norms that boys and girls are largely hanging out in gender-specific cliques as they grow up, how they learn to communicate and what their norms are.

There are a few things I want to talk through. You will find this funny. I may have told you some of this story before. Before kids, my wife and I were married a little while. Things change and you get comfortable. The thing that you did when you date, some of it is you are putting on your best face and progressed to the mean. When you become yourself, you start scratching yourself publicly or doing things that you wouldn’t have done at one point. You fart or burp a bit more than you used to. We are lying in bed and having a fun conversation giggling. She goes through her list of grievances and there were twelve of them.

She keeps smashing me with them. I giggled. I paused and my reply was, “You have become bossy.” She bursts out in laughter like, “True.” What Ian was talking about what is and isn’t socially acceptable with girls clearly, it’s not the opposite when girls are talking to boys, especially with their husbands. There is a major sex element of all of this. The other thing that is fascinating that we know we uncovered in our research and are going to talk about is that perception is very different between men and women, too.

A man could think that something is over and a woman doesn’t. One of the quotes that came up is they’ve got into a fight and the woman said to the man, “You are pretending this is over.” The man’s response was, “Who’s pretending? It never happened.” Puzzled by her questions as she had been hit by his behavior. “It happened and it’s over,” he said. What she took as a literal fight, to him, was routine or part of daily negotiation. It was a ritualistic fight. The sex thing happens and we get comfortable in our groups. We are made to in a Yahtzee sleeve get mixed around with all these other people in the workplace ground. It’s different and what you perceive is different.

Something that I no longer perceive as an issue, someone else still perceives an issue. When I was a young Manager at Ryan Homes, one of the things they put me through was what was called situational leadership. It didn’t go into Deborah Tannen stuff but he made you do all of these different exercises where you would physically speak to someone and they were scripted. You were saying things that were not the right thing to say at that moment and you knew it but they made you go through the exercise because it was so uncomfortable at that pause.

What I read or learned in reading and talking this through the end of building agenda is it brought up that set of emotions that I had when I was in my mid-twenties learning and uncovering that this is real in the workplace. There is the cultural, geographic, and sexual part of this that we all look at. It’s so hard to have empathy for others because you don’t think that way. You think everyone is like you and that’s what we are trying to drive at in this episode. Having empathy for others and realizing people have different perspectives is going to give you an unfair advantage in the workplace because most people don’t understand or cannot take it.

It’s part of our conclusion that we are going to talk about but it’s important to drop it in here. Sixty percent of Americans with Advanced degrees are women. Let that sink in. In general, women are more qualified and more studied than men, yet 72% of Senior Vice-Presidents in America are men so less qualified but more represented at the highest ranks. The next thing we are going to talk about is who gets the credit. Credit-grabbing, there’s an important piece of this that comes down to linguistics and conversational style.

Conversational Style: Men volunteer for promotions, and women often talk themselves out. What ends up happening is women find themselves less in roles of leadership and power.


When Deborah Tannen went for her dissertation, she studied businesses. She would go to meetings, take notes, listen and observe. She did this for years. She would survey and study. She found something pretty interesting. That was how men and women communicate in meetings and group settings is dramatically different in a way where the men get an unusual proportion of the credit. She used one example where she went to a meeting and her impression was the man in the meeting was responsible for most of the good suggestions that were adopted by the group.

She took some notes and said, “Phil had some good ideas.” As she went through, typed, looked at all of the notes, and relooked at it, she found that Cheryl, who was a female in this meeting, made most of the suggestions. What she assumed the guy was doing was coming up with it. When she went back and looked at it, he was just picking up on her points and supporting her. She would say, “We should look at taking some costs out in these two areas.” The guy would say, “I agree.” She would be quick to the point and have some good ideas. He would agree, and then elaborate in greater length in supporting her idea.

To an outside observer, it looked like the man was coming up with all these ideas. You could say, “He’s stealing her thunder.” Deborah Tannen did not say that he was stealing her thunder. She didn’t believe that. This guy never claimed any of those ideas were his own. In fact, the girl that came up with all the ideas did not feel that way after the meeting when she was interviewed. She felt very appreciative that he had supported her and it made her more confident to give more ideas in that meeting because another one of her peers who was a man was supporting her in it.

What’s interesting is she also felt like everyone in the room knew those were all her ideas and when Deborah Tannen went and interviewed everybody, what she found was the group felt the same way Deborah Tannen did, which was the guy had been giving a lot of great ideas in this meeting and that wasn’t the case. This is one isolated example but Deborah Tannen found over and over again that because of conversational style, men tend to get more of the credit for ideas and actual work being done in an organization.

Who gets credit is who gets promoted, paid more, moved up the ladder, and status with people that are making decisions. I feel like that was something that I found very interesting having worked for enough organizations where women were very underrepresented in leadership positions. This little piece of conversational style could have a big impact on that.

What I found interesting about this. I don’t just relate to what you said. There was an exercise where at the end they asked the men and the women for their perspectives. They interviewed in equal-size groups. The men all thought the man was the one who brought the most value and the women all thought the woman was the one who brought the most value. I would go to two separate things, inherent biases that we are unaware of or a conversational style. What relates to my conversational style is the one that is the most impactful.

What happened here was an example and this is cited in the article. There was great teamwork. Cheryl felt as if Phil supported her very well. The two people that were contributing were an example of great teamwork. One of our episodes about what pisses off or annoys us is the human echo. The human echo is someone who says, “That’s a great point. I would like to elaborate on that.” It then goes into it. That’s the wrong way to do it.

In this example, what I’m hearing is you have someone with great ideas and you have someone that has the pulse of the room, and collectively, the two of them put out a great message. What I thought with the sexism part though goes back to Seinfeld, know your audience. If your audience is a certain way, maybe instead of just saying it one way, you pose it and say something similar twice in ways that appeal to both sides of the room. That’s how you can win over a room.

Have more empathy for others because not everybody thinks as you do. Click To Tweet

This is where this whole thing started with mansplaining. Ian and I were talking to my wife about it and we were saying how it’s people talking at you is what it feels like. I don’t think that’s men to women only, I see tone-deaf people all the time that are pushing the wrong agenda and trying to push it down your throat where they don’t know how to adjust the message for the audience. I felt the wrong way but I have also seen it done insanely well where everyone is included. In this credit-grabbing example, what we saw here is a message being crafted together by two different people or sexes.

Let’s go back to the fact that 70% of senior management positions in companies are men. Part of the problem that women are up against is why that percentage isn’t getting better for them and not fast enough is the men in the room saw him and his style because that’s what they are used to as being very effective and him doing a great job. The women in the room saw her as coming up with great ideas, not bragging it by herself and seeing it good but what matters for who moves her up and who moves it.

If the most senior level person in the room is a female and is responsible for helping promote you and move you up the chain, then her style was great. Give an idea, be humble about it, and don’t brag on about it too much but if it’s men in the room, as a female, you have to think about the inherent bias of the person who’s evaluating who came up with the ideas and who’s adding value. You have to try to figure out how do I speak in a conversational style that a man is going to understand if that’s the person who’s going to be responsible for paying you more.

What I would say to all this is I’m going to use two very different examples. You see this in sports a lot. When the General Manager gets fired, usually the coach and the quarterback go because it wasn’t their people to pick. When a new General Manager comes in, there’s usually a new coach and quarterback in football because the General Manager wants to control that and they want to put things inside of their image. In a lot of instances, there is purging. In our line of work, we had divisions and we are regionalized or state.

You would rarely promote someone from the home building side into the mortgage because they are two different businesses and vice versa. We rarely plucked from the mortgage business and put them into the home building business but what you will see in certain instances and this can work across the lines of sex is people have their chosen teams. I have talked to one of my friends who’s a Senior Executive at a publicly-traded big company.

His boss picked him to be on a high-end account. When I was talking to him about it, he’s like, “I’ve got my team, too.” Sometimes it’s sex but sometimes it’s team-specific and understanding the dynamics of the person but if you want to make yourself more promotable, be relatable to the person who is your senior. At the same time, if you are looking to build your own team, the people with who you communicate the best are going to be the people with who you tend to move along the chain.

It’s the words I versus we. What Deborah Tannen found in her research was women were much more likely to speak in terms of we while men were much more likely to speak in terms of I. What she also found is for that reason, more people gave credit to men and less to women. This comes back to social norms where girls care very much about the overall perception of the group.

As I read a little bit about what it’s like to be a girl in some of these groups, it is like the crabs in the pot where one crab starts to crawl and get out of the pot. The crabs reach up, grab that one and pull it back in so they could all be even the same feel that way trying to have parody, at least a lot of that is deep-seated. She said some of this is vanity. Most women feel like people will know it’s their work. They don’t need to brag and claim it for themselves because most people will figure it out.

Know your audience, and say something similar twice in ways that appeal to both sides of the room. Click To Tweet

She said that was a fatal flaw in a lot of women who were not getting as far as they wanted. They assumed that people would know always who was doing the real work, whereas by speaking in terms of we, they were downgrading their work one-down on the status chart, whereas the men were happy to give themselves more credit.

Nobody ever comes in and says, “I was the fifth person on the team doing this project.” Everybody comes in pounding their chest and let you believe they are 1 or 2 in every situation and we all know that is not the case. A few things here. I remember being young working at the Outback. I had managers who always would say, “We or our.” I had this guy come in and said, “This is mine or I.” I was 20 or 22 years old.

I remember what a stark difference felt like and how much less I wanted to work for that person that I wanted to work for others who were using more inclusive language. Differentiating yourself is part of this but also managing is part of it. I find that the “we and us” is a way more powerful language set than the “I and mine” when you talk about anything, especially in leadership. If you get high enough in leadership, you start to realize that you get credit for nothing. It’s only you that gets blamed. That’s okay. That’s part of the deal.

The other thing is a funny story that has a lot to do with I. Kobe Bryant died in 2020 right before Super Bowl Sunday and ultimately, on February 24th of 2020, I remember it was 24, which was in significant numbers, they had the ceremony to celebrate his death. Shaq gets up there and tells this hysterical story. He walks up there and he’s like, “Kobe is young. He’s early in his career and everybody is pissed at him because he’s not passing the ball. I will take it. I will go talk to him. Kobe, there’s no I in the team.” Kobe goes, “There’s an M an E in that, motherfucker.” Shaq walks over to two guys and goes, “Here, pass it. You better get a rebound.”

There’s a difference between private and public boasting also between men and women. It was a study done by a Psychologist, Laurie Heatherington. She went and interviewed hundreds of incoming college students. She asked them to predict what grades they would get in their first year. What she found is there was a big difference in the predictions when there was a public or a private pronouncement.

She found that women when asked to predict their grades in a public or a group forum gave themselves almost a full grade lower on average than the boys but when they all did it privately where they didn’t have to do it in front of a group, it was about equal between the men and the girls. That’s all business is. You are always being asked to commit to things, what’s your commitment for the quarter, for the year and how far do you think you can get. If you are always downgrading yourself when you are being asked in a public forum to do something like that, you are looked at as not confident and someone with a self-confidence problem or an assertiveness problem.

If you are a woman reading this, you have to be conscious of the fact that by downgrading yourself and there’s someone else that you are competing with for a promotion or pay and it’s a man, there’s a good chance that he’s not doing that. There’s a good chance that he’s confidently putting out a prediction, whether he can make it or not. That’s coming across as confident, whether he makes it or not. It’s coming across as someone who believes in himself more than someone who wouldn’t put themselves out there.

There’s a book called Tightrope. It’s in the same vein as Dopesick and Hillbilly Elegy. It’s about Americana and where we rank in the world. We don’t rank very high in a lot of statistical categories. We are 10 to 30 in almost everything. With our resources, our size, and what we have, we should be higher but there is one thing that we rank incredibly high in. Do you know what it is?


Conversational Style: Ask questions to reduce the learning curve and increase contributions.


Number one most self-confident humans in the entire world are Americans. That’s men and women. Comparatively to anybody else, we have higher self-confidence. Men are worse at this than women. Statistically, what we talked about, proves out. What Ian is talking about in the public boasting is as a society, we are boasters. Not only are we boasters, but men are also way more at this than women.

My wife came in and talked about this. We have the statistics to back this up. I remember my boss coming in when I was 24 years old and saying, “I don’t have the skills to be CEO.” I remember thinking to myself, “I will do the job.” I was not qualified and I would have been terrible but I remember being so full of myself that I would have taken that.

Ian can talk about this more than I can but men are volunteering for promotions and women are awfully often talking themselves out of them and saying no. This comes down to the public boasting thing where they feel like they need to master something more than a man does. What ultimately happens is self-promotion, alliances and communication. These things all start to line up. What ends up happening is women find themselves less in roles of leadership and power because of these factors.

Having worked in a business with more females than males, I saw this over and over. I cannot recall any time in my career where I had to convince a man that they were ready for the next job. This gets into Peter Principle a little bit. I can’t remember ever having to go to a guy and saying, “You are ready.” I’m saying, “I need more time in the role.”

Maybe a guy didn’t want the job and flat told me that job seems uninteresting to me but I can’t recall a time where I ever had to give someone confidence like, “You are ready.” I could rattle off if I wanted to a dozen names of females that I believed were ready to take on a bigger role who tried to turn it down. In most cases, I was persuasive enough to get them to take the job. In almost every case, they kicked ass and did a great job. I’m not going to list their names here because this is a public forum but I could tell you the names because I remember being so frustrated.

There were some people that I had to do it 3 and 4 times like, “You are ready for that job. Come on. You can do it.” We have a long conversation. They go in that job and kick ass. I’m trying to promote them again two years later. They say, “I’m not ready.” I’m like, “Yes you are. We have been through this.” I promote them, kick ass. The third time, “Are you going to make me beg you again?” I saw it come up over and over where men were usually overconfident in their ability to do the next job and women downgraded themselves on a more frequent note.

There were exceptions. There were plenty of very aggressive females but when I say aggressive, I have a good example. This was in 2006. I promoted two salespeople to sales management positions. One was in Richmond and one was in Fairfax. One was a young guy who was probably in his mid-twenties and one was a young girl in her mid-twenties. Both were crazy talented, smart, accomplished, aggressive and assertive people. The female was a little bit different. She was more of the alpha-like a guy. She acted a little more like it.

They were getting the same direction from me. I was their boss. I was giving them directions on how to handle things and what to do. They would come to me and say, “Here’s how I’m going to approach this.” I would say, “That makes sense.” I felt like they were going about their job the same way. After six months, the girl who was promoted, her team was rebelling, both the men and the women. The older guys were like, “I don’t like the way she talks to me. I feel like she talks over me. She’s too direct.” The women were complaining about her. I kept hearing the word bossy over and over again.

'We and us' is a more powerful language set than the 'I and mine' when you talk about anything, especially in leadership. Click To Tweet

The guy down in Richmond who was approaching it the same way was looked at as a decisive leader. He’s a no-nonsense, no-bullshit kind of guy and I like that. He’s direct and I like direct. They both approached it the same way. One team rebelled and the other team got what they expected out of a male manager. There’s also this expectation of how a female manager and male manager should behave because of social norms.

Also how you are conditioned and what you think is going to happen. Most of the people probably at the Richmond branch thought, “That man is going to come in and he’s going to be the boss.” Some of the people rebelled against the woman in Fairfax because she acted like the boss and they weren’t prepared for it. It comes down to the social norms and what you are conditioned to receive. What we thought was a bullshit blow-off episode that would have been fun, turned into something incredibly serious and that’s why this woman is world-renowned Deborah Tannen because she has taken these things and spent decades analyzing them.

The more you look, there’s a difference between men and women, managers and non-managers, mothers and daughters, all of these different things that you can analyze because that’s it. Most of the problems that people have in their marriages come down to communication. There are entire industries of psychologists and marriage coaches that all comes down to talking. That’s what we are talking about here in a broader context about the subject.

Another finding from Deborah Tannen’s research was a stark difference in a woman’s willingness to ask questions in groups versus a man’s willingness to ask questions in groups. A lot of this comes right back to social norms. In a group, if only one person asks questions, he or she risks being seen as the only ignorant person. That’s on both sides. There’s this fear of being the only person that asked a question. If everyone is quiet, the assumption is they know what they are talking about.

Wrong, right or indifferent, we tend to judge others, not just by how they speak but also by how they are spoken to. The person who asks questions may end up getting lectured to and looking like a novice under some school Master’s tutelage. The way boys are socialized makes them much more likely to be aware of this underlying power dynamic by which a question asker can be seen in a dropdown position. If you ask a question, you can be perceived as losing status because someone might have to explain something and be your teacher.

She was looking at a practicing physician who learned the hard way that any exchange of info can become the basis for judgments about competence. During her training, she received a negative evaluation. She thought it was unfair so she asked her boss for an explanation. He said that, “You seem to know less than your peers.” She was stunned by this and said, “How did you come to that conclusion?” He said, “You asked a lot more questions,” which doesn’t mean that she knows less.

I see this a little differently. Maybe I do have some unconscious bias but I love people that raise their hand and ask questions in a group because they seem to me like they have more guts. You and I are both public speakers, Frank. If you have ever been a speaker or someone who’s run meetings, you don’t want to do all the talking so you appreciate people that are not afraid to raise their hand but in group settings, that can be perceived as a lack of knowledge.

It’s the same way men don’t like to ask for directions when we are driving and a woman will always be like, “Pullover. Let me ask someone.” It’s like, “Don’t do that.” We care about being perceived as someone who knows what they are doing and in charge, whereas a woman doesn’t care much about that. They want the right answer and get to where they are going.

If you are a woman who has upward desires career-wise, it's essential to talk about positioning yourself. Click To Tweet

One of the things that I always heard about myself in feedback sessions when I was a younger employee or manager at NVR in Ryan Homes is that I wasn’t afraid to ask questions. When I think about this and when we were reading this in prep, one of the things that I thought about a lot is when I was a kid, I more resembled my mom. I had the traits of her characteristics. I am more my dad now. I’m grumpier, firmer and less open-minded. I know these things are happening but the point is when I was younger, I was more like my mom.

I was raised to ask questions. The jokes about stopping for directions, I will stop for directions. That’s ingrained in me because of my mom and how I was raised but when I’ve got to the corporate setting, I was fortunate enough to be with managers who are good enough to understand that I was competent, working hard, and asking questions because I wanted to reduce the learning curve and contribute. That’s where it always came from. What would bad managers and what you read about this physician, that’s the example of someone who’s tone-deaf. He says, “You are asking questions so you are dumb,” which is bad management.

Fortunately for us, we had good management and we stood out because we were willing to ask those questions. The social norms of it are part of it. Asking too many questions, you do seem needy and stupid, I will say that. We’ve got people who are too needy and asking tons of questions but by large, if you have an aptitude for performance and you are asking questions, you were looked at as smarter.

There’s also something here that you are going against type. If people know the norm that a guy shouldn’t ask questions in a group, and then someone comes along like you, big, strong, smart, doing well and you are asking questions, you are seen as fearless because you are going against type. You are doing something that you know could jeopardize your standing and the fact that you are asking questions in a group shows that you are self-confident, whereas if a woman does that, no one is seeing that against type. They might think of that person as ditzy, ignorant or not able to pick up on things as fast. Part of you getting kudos for asking questions was you were going against the type of your gender.

The thing about it is it was embraced because I had the right leadership. You and I have talked about sticking it to your boss and when do you shut up way in front of your manager. I realized pretty early that I was rewarded for acting in this way and I continue to but I have been in situations where acting this way, when I had a woman manager earlier in my career who used to give me a bunch of flack, I stopped talking and asking questions because it wasn’t received very well. Knowing your audience and where you are, is critical of it.

Apologizing, women tend to say, “I’m sorry,” three times the rate of men in social situations. It’s a ritual that girls learn at a very early age to establish rapport but people who utter frequent apologies may end up appearing weaker, less confident, and more blameworthy than people who don’t. On the other side of it, as a Manager, if you don’t take blame ever, it can frustrate employees who refuse to accept responsibility or make mistakes. Boys in general are not going to admit they made a mistake as frequently as women because that can be seen as a downgrade to your status.

You don’t talk about it, say that you did anything wrong and admit to it going wrong. Little things like if your phone is the reason why a call dropped, a woman is much more likely to say, “I’m sorry, that was me.” A guy is more likely to jump on the phone and say, “What happened?” Then move on. They have studied the hell out of it. We are conditioned not to say, “I’m sorry.” Don’t lead with I’m sorry. Don’t apologize because that’s admitting wrong, which is a politician’s way of doing things.

I don’t know if there’s much more to add there. If you are a man and in a position where you do make a mistake and you say you are sorry, especially in a work setting, it sets you apart because, in a lot of instances, men are fairly stubborn. Deborah Tannen goes into this detail about the apology between a man and a woman, and how much value it has most of the time for the woman and comparatively how little value it has to the man. Understanding the power of it, utilizing the word when needed, being socially aware around, “I’m sorry,” is a big thing.

Conversational Style: Women showed more concern about subordinates’ feelings when they were playing the role of superior than men.


Compliments and feedback. Every study showed that women pay more compliments than men. In addition, men are much less likely to ask, “What did you think of my performance?” The question invites a potential status one-down, whereas a woman is more likely to ask because they are used to getting answers that would preserve the status quo that is rapport building. There are two things on this. One, a man might not get as much feedback as he wants because he’s protecting his ego.

Any man reading this should think about that. Naturally, you are going to be inclined not to ask, “How did I do?” to avoid feedback, whereas a woman is going to go get it. On the other side of it, a woman who does ask for it, you are talking to a man 72% of the time and a man is not going to be as likely to try to protect your feelings.

If you ask a man or a boss about your performance, don’t be fishing for a compliment because you are more likely out of a man to get an honest, direct, look you in the eyes and tell you how your performance went. If they didn’t feel like it went well, you are more likely to get something that you are not ready for so be careful about who you ask. If you are a man, know that your condition not to ask for feedback could hold you back as well.

Lastly, in leadership, they did a study of 100 men and women in leadership positions. The women showed more concern about subordinates’ feelings when they were playing the role of superior. In other words, the women were more careful to save face for the other person when they were managing down than when they were managing up. Much less likely, I would have to get involved when some tough feedback was involved with a female manager than I would with a male manager because they are not in tune with that person’s feelings. It was less likely that the conversations were left with hard feelings. I don’t know if you have noticed that or not.

I have and instead of saying specifically in leadership and with the feelings piece, you’ve got to be mindful of who you are talking to. Leadership boils down to who’s delivering the message and who’s receiving the message. You need a multitude of deliveries if you have a multitude of people who work for you. I have seven different divisions. How I talk across divisions is quite different. The skillset, mentality, vocabulary, and expectations are different.

In a leadership role, it’s very important to understand where you are at, who’s there, who works there, and speak in that manner in that group. I used this reference. We all have examples of seeing it done wrong and properly but it’s critically important to adjust what comes out of your mouth for the audience.

As a wrap-up, I would say on both sides because we do have boys and girls that read our show. If you are a female, understand that in business, it is still largely a man’s world and that is not a chauvinist thing, that is statistically speaking. 41 of 500 Fortune 500 companies have a female CEO that is highly underrepresented. At the CEO level, men outnumber women by 17 to 1. That 28% are Senior Vice Presidents. This is something you have to understand.

If you have big ambitions, you have to get over some of these things that you have been conditioned and you have to be comfortable in speaking in a way that a man will give you credit for things. If you are a male reading this, females are dramatically underrepresented and that’s not a good way to run a business. You could be passing on some of your absolute best talents and you could be making assumptions about people that might make incredible leaders that will make you a lot of money. What we are talking about is making a profitable business.

Conversational Style: If you can figure out how to help generate winning and success, no matter where you are, it’s going to lead you to the right spot.


You could be passing on people that are better candidates than the men you are promoting because of your own biases that you are not seeing and you could be making assumptions about people about their confidence, approach, attitude, intelligence, and knowledge because of a different conversational style that you haven’t recognized. We were both excited to get on here and make a big joke about mansplaining.

I’m going to give your Eli Cava a lot of credit, which I normally don’t like to do but she did a good job at changing my mind on a topic that I had made my mind up about that was bullshit. The more I studied this, it made sense and the audio matched the video from my twenty years as a Manager working at two Fortune 500 companies.

I agree with what you said and I have nothing different to say. I just have a different perspective on which to say it. If you are a woman who has upward desires career-wise, it’s important to talk about positioning yourself well. One of the things that Ian and I have talked about many times that’s the common theme is who you align yourself with. As a woman with upward aspirations in a male-dominated workplace, it’s incredibly important to make sure you have male supporters and cheerleaders who believe in you.

I find that person to be rare. I don’t see tons of those examples but if you are one of those examples, that’s the path forward and figuring out how to take the sharp edges off of the presentation to make it fit like his Manager for Richmond, we don’t want that situation but we want to make it so you can get promoted. On the other side and this is a broader part of our audience, if you are a male, understand that many women have felt dejected or have been demoted mentally or specifically in their careers prior to getting to you. If you are an open-minded Manager, which I hope you are, you may have to encourage women to take more responsibility.

I have had to deal with this several times in my career. What I can tell you is Ian has given several examples already. You are rewarded as a Manager by putting belief in someone. It doesn’t matter to me what your sex is. What matters to me is what you can do. I often have to temper the enthusiasm of males and help support women but by doing so, I feel like I have an incredibly diverse and strong leadership team made up of men, women, and all different colors because I look at what’s the performance and what do you need for me to get better. That’s what it takes to be a great leader.

Wherever you are in this dialogue, understand it, relate to it, use situational awareness and figure out how to get what it is that you want. In most instances, what people in business want is a success. If you can figure out how to help generate winning and success no matter where you are, it’s going to lead you to the right spot.

You mansplained that perfectly. That was a great closing by you.

I find that to be hysterical because if we did a Venn Diagram on speaking, you talked a lot more than me. I was going to give you some shit of, “Mansplain this one to me.”

I typically do talk more than you and that’s because I prepare for these rather than just showing up in my pajamas. That has nothing to do with mansplaining, whether you are a male or female, hit subscribe and give us a five-star review with some comments. We’ve got five new stars. I’m pretty excited about it. Some of you are sticking around to hear my begging at the end of these so it means a lot to us if you will give us that. Frank, it was good hanging out with you.

It’s always a pleasure.

Important Links: