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 is always possible. (hosted by Michael Toms)


Deborah Tannen is University Professor and Professor of Linguistics at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. She has been a McGraw Distinguished Lecturer at Princeton University and spent a term in residence at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. She has twice been a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford in Palo Alto, California. The recipient of five honorary doctorates, Tannen is a member of the PEN/Faulkner Foundation Board of Directors. 

Deborah Tannen is the author of many books including:

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