Repair Questions

Reading this interesting post about how men and women signal differently in conversations where they’re interested in their partners, I came across these curious lines:

Both genders convey intended flirtation by laughing more, speaking faster, and using higher pitch. However, we do find gender differences; men ask more questions when they say they are flirting, women ask fewer, although they do use more repair questions, while men do not.

The gist of those lines makes sense. Many broad gender generalizations might explain what impetus would make men assume an inquisitive, prompting position in flirtatious conversation while women tend instead towards a more direct, statement-oriented position.

Much more interesting than the gendered stuff is the definition of "repair questions":

[R]epair questions (also called NTRIs; next turn repair indicators) are turns in which a speaker signals lack of hearing or understanding (Schegloff et al., 1977). To detect these, we used a simple heuristic: the presence of ‘Excuse me’ or ‘Wait’, as in the following example:

MALE: Okay. Are you excited about that?

FEMALE: Excuse me?

Ok so my interest is gendered after all. So women ask fewer curious questions about the men w/ whom we’re flirting, but we do generously employ repair questions.

Repair questions’ main purpose appears to be slowing the conversation. They pause a conversation partner’s attention in order to repeat the same thought, perhaps more slowly or w/ more deliberate phrasing. Thus someone who uses repair questions manipulates the conversational cadence and buys more time for planning better-considered answers.

No wonder men find women so complicated. The "flirting" piece that inspired the "repair" research notes that both genders speak more quickly when flirting. So deliberately slowing the conversation w/ repair questions evidently makes the conversation feel less like flirting.

I’ll let you rely on your own experience w/ mixed signals here. How interesting that mixed signals aren’t just an error that compassionate women try to overcome w/ men they like; they’re a flirtation tool, a feminine wile, a manner of speaking that women actually use to hold male attention.



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