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Nonverbal Communication
Nonverbal Communication between the Sexes
Gabrielle Moore
Dr. Neale- Writing Communications
Queen’s University of Charlotte
11/11/12
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Nonverbal Communication
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The Way we Are:
Communication between men and women has always been an area in need of
improvement. The ways in which men and women communicate seem to be vastly different
from one another; which makes the mere existence of any type of communication between
them somewhat of a phenomenon. Though the communication itself does exist, there are
many holes and obstacles that get in the way. Specifically with nonverbal communication, the
way in which men and women go about the simplest of movements is vital to the overall
success or failure of close relationships. The question raised is why is there such a barrier
between the way women communicate and the way in which men communicate? Regardless of
the answer, there is an obvious communication barrier between that of men and women and
the reasons why begin with research on where communication first began.
What is Nonverbal Communication?
According to the ‘International Encyclopedia of Communications’, nonverbal
communication would literally mean any sort of communication that is not accomplished
through words. However, it is typically used to refer to people who are in each other’s presence
and is accomplished through body movement, gesture, facial expressions, posture, spacing,
touch and even smell (Barnouw, Gerbner, Worth, 1989). This type of communication is one that
has been used even before there were mass amounts of languages. Nonverbal communications
is often a topic that is overlooked yet is vital to the way in which we communicate with others.
Both men and women make use of this form of communication in completely different ways.
Since, this particular form of communicating involves body expression, “women usually
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function at high intensity; the faces are more animated, hands in motion and usually touch
others” (McManus, 1999). This article describes the way in which women communicate
perfectly. In order to feel connected or make their view or presence known while talking
women tend to use more of the body to express themselves. Also, depending on the setting,
whether male or female, a woman is more likely to touch the person they are speaking with.
Touching from the female sides adds a sense of connection with whomever they are speaking
with and most touch is barely recognized by the individual doing the touching. Women use
their bodies frequently in order to communicate it’s the way most women typically function. In
complete contrast, men are more conservative with their movements. Their facial expressions
tend to be more on the neutral side and their touching is little to none, and often times when
touching is introduced, males can be a bit thrown off (McManus, 1999). Overall, the goal for
women in nonverbal communication is to maintain the relationship, encourage participation
and provide attention; whereas with men the goal can change depending on the setting
whether it is to maintain dominance or preserve a calm environment (McManus, 1999). With
this information, it can be concluded that one of the reasons for communication barriers is that
the overall goals are different from one another. Where women want to really connect and
remain attentive, men would rather stay silent and avoid difficult and personal dialogues.
The History of the sexes:
Many of the differences in communication have to do with typical household
upbringings. According to the novel ‘Sex Roles’, as children young women are encouraged to
smile more and be emotionally expressive; whereas young men are taught that suppressing
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their emotions is proper masculine behavior (Briton, Hall, 1995). These initial lessons as
children follow into adulthood. Most men tend to suppress many of the nonverbal gestures due
to the fact that they have learned that those certain touches or expressing of emotions was
improper for a man. This could even go to the fact that many men who seem to be more
expressive or on the sensitive side are usually perceived to be homosexual by both other men
and women alike. Women on the other hand are very expressive and usually easy to read.
Along with that, women are usually a better read of other people’s nonverbal facial expressions
and gestures. In this society women are expected to be very emotional, gentle and expressive
with others; to be otherwise makes them cold or emotionless and even that you are trying to
be like a man. Within most relationships, one sex has what the other lacks. Men are very
conservative and tough, while women are gentle and soft and very emotional. Though these
are common stereotypes about the sexes, many of them tend to be true and when a man or
woman break from these molds they seem more desirable somehow. A man who may have
been raised by just his mother would tend to be more sensitive and emotional, this would
cause women to flock to him because it is something not normally seen. Also, a woman who
was raised by her father would tend to be more closed off and therefore be more desirable to
men because she seems mysterious and they want to be that one guy to discover her. The way
in which men and women are raised have a lot to do with the way our nonverbal
communication skills develop and come into play within our close relationships.
Personal Space:
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Another part of nonverbal communication is proxemics or spacing and body orientation.
Both of these forms of communication are completely opposite for each sex. “Picture this: its
happy hour after work. On one side of the room, there's a group of women, deep in
conversation. Their chairs are all turned toward each other, and they continually make eye
contact. On the other side of the room, there's a group of four men. They sit at angles to each
other. During much of their discussion, their eyes roam around the room, glancing at each
other infrequently. Each cluster is engaged in its preferred style of talk. It's great for tonight,
but when group members are engaged with the other gender these preferences may cause
problems” (Tannen, 1990). Men would rather not sit intimately or look each other in the eye for
extended periods of time. For men, whether or not they look at each other has no direct
correlation with whether or not they are being listened to. Women on the other hand look each
other in the eye constantly and it gives them the sense of knowing that they are being listened
to. Though the friendly bonds are just as strong, bonds between men have more to do with
doing things together and less on talking or intimate conversations (Tannen, 1990). This would
not normally be a problem but when you put one with the other it causes huge road blocks in
communication. Many women talk to their men about problems and emotions and though the
man may be listening to every word, the fact that he avoids eye contact tells the woman he is
not listening. Many times though, the man can really not be listening. Most men get
uncomfortable when they have to listen to problems and emotions; it is like a foreign territory
for them. Even amongst friends, men normally talk around or through their problems because it
is seen as being feminine or overly emotional, they learn at a young age to be the strong male
figure. Men say more with a lot less and tend to never really flat out say what their problems
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are but women are constantly telling their problems and issues which makes for a huge
problem in many relationships. Much of this can be solved if women stop expecting men to
behave like their female friends and if men stop being so closed off to their emotions as if they
are talking to their guy friends. Communication can be simplified but only if people pay
attention and lower their expectations more than a little bit.
Environmental Factors with Nonverbal:
Environmental factors also have a lot to do with nonverbal communication. Depending
upon where the interaction is going on, different factors must be considered; but in doing that
things can also be misread. Often if people are somewhere really close and loud, the man and
or woman may have to break the touch barrier in order to get the others attention simply to be
heard; but in doing so the move may be read the wrong way. Many times a man may think the
touch means the woman is into him and try to escalate faster than is wanted. In the same way a
woman may think the touch means the guy is into her when all that is going on is a touch to
initiate some form of communication. Haptics, otherwise known as touch, are used so
differently for each sex. Touch comes easy to women because they are more likely to use it in
their everyday conversations; but due to that fact when women try to use it another way to get
someone’s attention it’s usually missed. It is hard for men to differentiate which touch is flirt
touch and which is just normal. In the same way, men use touch less often so any touch is hard
to read. Often times men who just want to introduce the factor of touching can easily run a
woman off if the touch is too much too soon. Even the most innocent of moves can come off as
a come on and be rejected by the female. There is so much that goes with nonverbal
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communication and there are so many factors to be considered that the communicating itself is
rarely successful.
Paralanguage:
One of the biggest parts of nonverbal communication is the paralinguistic aspect. These
are vocal not actual words. This would include tone of voice, pitch, gasps, grunts, murmurs etc.
As a culture we associate so much with things that are never actually said. Typically a soft tone
of voice is not taken seriously or listened to where as a steady tone of voice is somehow more
credible to the average person (Nelson, 2011). This is a problem particularly with women who
tend to naturally be softer spoken; it is okay in relationships where the woman is expected to
be that way but it makes it difficult for men to take things seriously. Also, women tend to want
to talk in vivid detail to create an entire story whereas men will be really short and to the point.
When someone gets to the point it makes the person a lot more credible because when a
person just talks on and on they can lose their audience and people will just want you to get to
the point of things (Nelson, 2011). Men tend to be more credible simply because they are very
short and to the point naturally, most women have to try and be more deliberate with this task.
But in the same way men have problems with saying more when more needs to be said. Often
times when asked to elaborate a man will more than likely have more difficulty than a woman.
Not only that, but tone of voice means a lot in communications. Many women have a very
changeable voice and as they talk there are obvious changes in their tone. In contrast men’s
voice are more neutral and short, but this reads to women that they are bored and somehow
want the end the conversation. Though this may never be true, the “to the point” voice tells
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women they are bored no matter what the male may really feel. Communication is not simply
what you say but how you say it is even more important.
The way we need to be:
To conclude, there is a lot to be said about nonverbal communication between men and
women. There are obviously many barriers and differences that account for more than a little
of the problems we typically see in communication. According to Tannen, “in these times of
ethnic conflicts, the world desperately needs cross-cultural understanding” (Tannen, 1986). I
would agree completely, the problems are fairly simple to understand and even simpler to fix.
The problem is simply listening and paying attention. Men have to pay more attention to the
way women communicate and be more sensitive to those needs. Like making eye contact and
contributing more than a few grunts to the conversations. In the same way, women have to
understand that men are fairly simple creatures and would rather not do as much talking than
what is absolutely necessary; so forcing him to talk about himself may not always be necessary.
If both sexes make more of an effort to understand the other, many of the communication
barriers could be fixed fairly quickly. If there is to be any hope for male to female
communication in the future then people are going to have to wise up and begin to pay
attention to the opposite sex in more than just the physical. There is a lot to understand and if
people begin to do so then there would be less of a need for all the relationship counselors of
the world. Nonverbal communication matters and to learn and understand that is the beginning
of a good and happy life with the opposite sex.
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