Stop Arguing And Start Talking with Deborah Tannen

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Most of us are so entrenched in what Deborah Tannen calls the "argument culture" that we don't even realize how it has corroded our spirits. Consider how we describe problems today: "the battle of the bulge," "the war on drugs," "the battle of the sexes." Tannen examines this compulsive use of combative rhetoric in the media, in politics, in our courtrooms and in our classrooms. She notes, "To prove you're objective, you have to be critical; to prove you're smart, you have to attack; to make a name for yourself, you have to stake out a position." The argument culture encourages us to distort facts, waste time and limit our thinking. It keeps us in an adversarial frame of mind, all the time. Yet Tannen is optimistic that we can find new ways to approach the world, citing concrete evidence that a turning point may be right around the corner. (hosted by Michael Toms)


Deborah Tannen is University Professor and Professor of Linguistics at Georgetown University.

She is the author of:

  • The Argument Culture: Moving from Debate to Dialogue (Random House 1998)
  • You Were Always Mom's Favorite!: Sisters in Conversation Throughout Their Lives (Ballantine Books 2010)
  • You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation (Harper 2001)

To learn more about the work of Deborah Tannen go to

Topics Explored in This Dialogue

  • How to clear the argumentative atmosphere and make true dialogue possible
  • What are the roots of the argument culture
  • What is the danger of looking at only two sides of an issue
  • Why cultural differences in negotiating disagreements are important
  • How the ethic of aggression has turned the media into a battleground
  • What has turned the ìwatchdogsî of the press into ìattack dogsî
  • How we polarize people when we polarize an issue
  • How to search for the truth, not just win or lose the argument
Host: Michael Toms      Interview Date: 4/22/1998       Program Number: 2712