Language is one of the most important tools humans use to navigate relationships. The way a person communicates with authority figures is probably different than the way that same person communicates with friends or family. Language even shapes public discourse and can subtly reinforce institutional power structures.
In everyday life, we are more concerned about the linguistics of power as they relate to our interpersonal relationships. When we communicate with equals, are we talking to them, or talking with them? Is the answer the same if we are communicating with people who have some form of power over us?
While the difference between to and with may seem like grammatical trivia, effective communication in professional spaces often depends on showing appropriate deference to bosses and supervisors and delivering correction and discipline in a sensitive manner.
Word choice can play a critical role in these areas of communication, so read on to find out how to use these words effectively in your own writing and correspondence.
What is the Difference Between Talking To vs Talking With?
In this article, I will compare talking to vs. talking with. I will use each of these phrases in an example sentence, so you can see when it is best used.
Plus, I will give you a mnemonic to help you decide whether you should use talking to or talking with.
When to Use Talk To
What does talking to mean? While talking to and talking with can both mean carrying on a conversation with one or more people, talking to often implies a one-sided conversation, such as between a supervisor and an employee.
Talking to is also more likely to imply a reprimand.
Here are some examples,
- I’ve been talking to her about her performance, but it has not improved.
- If you keep this up, you’re going to get a stern talking to from the recess attendant.
- Jason, I wanted to talk to you about the inappropriate emails you’ve been sending the receptionist.
Now, let’s contrast this with the phrase talk with.
When to Use Talk With
What does talk with mean? Like talking to, talking with can mean holding a conversation.
It is more likely, however, to be used for conversation among peers, equals, or friends.
See these examples,
- I always see Molly talking with Andre at lunch; are they dating?
- Rufus is out talking with his friends in the backyard.
- “I want to hear you talking with your teammates about how to improve your defense,” said Coach Barnes.
Talking With or Talking To? Remember the Difference
Talking with and talking to can both mean carrying on a conversation. In casual use, they are basically interchangeable, and you should use whichever feels more natural.
In some settings, however, talking to can imply a one-sided delivery of information, like from a manager to a subordinate. Since to has an O, like one-sided, you can easily remember that this phrase can apply to these circumstances.
Is it talking to or talking with? Talking to and talking with mean largely the same thing: carrying on a conversation.
- Talking to can imply a power differential
- Talking with implies conversation between equals.
Since talking to contains an O, like one-sided, it should be no trouble to save talking to for such situations.
To summarize, talking with means conversation among equals. Talking to could also refer to conversation involving a power differential.