Abstract: This essay discusses how genders express themselves differently in the form of non-verbal communications. Women usually display greater skill at sending and receiving nonverbal messages.
Nonverbal Communication Differences Between Genders
A significant amount of evidence and empirical reality suggests that genders express themselves differently in the form of non-verbal communication. Women usually display greater skill at sending and receiving nonverbal messages. These differences are believed to exist because women have been observed to use certain nonverbal expressions more than men (i.e. smiling and laughing). They have also been found to be better interpreters of facial expressions.
It is important to emphasize that, from a very early age, males and females are taught different linguistic practices. Communicative behaviors that are acceptable for boys, for example, may be considered inappropriate for girls. Thus,
women experience linguistic and non-linguistic discrimination in two ways: in the way they are taught to use verbal and non-verbal language, and in the way general language and non-verbal usage treats them. (Burgoon, pp.12-15)
In nonverbal communication, there are definite differences between the genders in the areas of eye contact, gestures, smiles, personal space, touch, and interpretation of nonverbal cues. Females, for instance, typically establish more eye contact than men. They maintain a gaze longer. However, they are less likely to stare at someone. They also break eye contact more frequently than men. (Hall, pp.21-22)
Men, meanwhile, are less likely to make eye contact, but when they do, they may get “locked in” without realizing that eye contact is being returned. They also use more physical gestures. (Burgoon, pp.12-14)
Females also tend to smile more than men. Not only that, they are also more attracted to others who smile. (Ivy, pp.31-32) Moreover, women are more skilled at both sending and interpreting facial expression than are men. They use more facial expressions in general.
Females also touch others more than males do. They are touched more than men. In addition, women are more likely to associate touch with personal warmth and expressiveness. In other words, they are able to interpret non-verbal communication much better.
In essence, therefore, men and women use and interpret nonverbal communication differently. Spatial zones generally are drawn closer for women than for men. Women approach more closely, and prefer side-by-side conversations. Men prefer more face-to-face conversations. (Pearson, pp.23-26)
All of this is connected to the fact that the genders also interpret each other differently in terms of verbal communication. This phenomenon is crystallized by Deborah Tannen in her article “Talk in the Intimate Relationship.” (Tannen) Tannen discusses the conversations of men and women and how they are prone to misunderstanding. She shows that because of the different natures and objectives of men and women, the discourse between them often turns into confrontation and misunderstanding. We see that there are gender-based differences in conversational style that lead to problems in relationships.
This makes us understand how there are also differences in non-verbal communication.
Tannen argues that women often argue emotionally, while men try to understand and evaluate rationally different points of view. Women are more focused on involvement and on co-operation, while men want independence and to get to the heart of an issue.
Tannen discusses how young boys and girls have completely different forms of discourse among themselves. This is precisely why they learn to have completely different forms of conversation. In general, girls like to cooperate in their discussions, while men like to compete and to see who is the best at something. Women like to talk things out, while men see “working things” over as a sign of a problem, which they believe is the very thing that is supposed to be avoided. This explains why there are also non-verbal communication differences between the genders.
Tannen points out that men, by nature, talk less than women because they have less of a need for communication and understanding. Overall, she applies a certain gender determinism to explain how conversations go wrong between men and women. This is why women are ready to have conversations when they get into relationships, while men are not ready for it at all.
We begin to understand that men and women speak different languages because they think in different ways. Females try to make connections, to be supportive, to focus on details. Men strive for logic, abstraction and directness. Men engage in report-talk, while women like to recreate every detail and tone of a conversation. This obviously leads to problems in relationships between men and women.
Tannen is telling us that because men and women miscommunicate, there becomes a problem. This is why she refers to metamessages, which are messages that mean something other than what was articulated. In other words, people must understand what a person means regardless of what they say. Metamessages clearly involve the relationship between the speakers.
Thus, in this context, it becomes understandable why genders express themselves differently in the form of non-verbal communication. Without doubt, women do display greater skill at sending and receiving nonverbal messages. That is because they are more attuned to them. This is also why women are better interpreters of facial expressions.
Overall, in nonverbal communication, there are definite differences between the genders. We see that in the context of realms like eye contact, gestures, smiles, personal space and touch that females behave differently from males. In terms of the Tannen article, for example, it becomes clear why women establish more eye contact than men, since they try to solve problems more.
It is indicative that females also tend to smile more than men, since they are more sensitive to establishing inter-personal relations. Tannen’s article makes us understand that non-verbal communication and verbal communication are very much related between the genders.
Burgoon, J. K., Buller, D. B., & Woodall, W. G. Nonverbal Communication: The Unspoken Dialogue (New York: McGraw-Hill Companies, 1996)
Hall, Edward. The Hidden Dimension (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, 1966)
Ivy, D. and Backlund, P. Exploring Gender Speak: Personal Effectiveness in Gender Communication. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1994).
Pearson, J., Turner, L., and Todd-Mancillas, W. Gender & communication. (Dubuque, IA: William C. Brown, 1991).
Tannen, Deborah. “Talk in the Intimate Relationship.” 75 Readings: An Anthology (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1997).