This sample psychology essay explores differences in nonverbal communication between genders, including a look at dating, workplace communication, and sexual interests. This type of essay would likely be found in a psychology or sociology class, or may just be a personal project for someone passionate about discussing society.
Understanding how men and women communicate
Communication is the way we share beliefs and ideas between ourselves and other human beings. We use communication to express our emotions, voice our opinions, state our values, teach and learn, and improve our status. Thus, communication is incredibly important to virtually every facet of our lives; work, relationships, social situations, and more. While written communication represents one of the most structured and polished interaction methods, direct communication, both verbal and non-verbal, is much more complicated.
Diversity in the interaction tendencies of the people we interact with can affect our communication with each other. Gaps in communication occur when the message is either translated incorrectly or misinterpreted. This occurs often as genders tend to communicate differently. We have all heard jokes about men and women not understanding each other and communicating differently. One of the ways the sexes communicate differently is through nonverbal cues.
Nonverbal communication refers to communicative actions that are distinct from space, including facial expression, hand gestures, posture, position, and other body movements (Reiman 2013). These differences can have a profound effect on how men and women communicate in the workplace, while dating, and in social situations.
General differences in nonverbal communication
Differences in nonverbal communication in men and women are categorized in two ways:
- Hereditary characteristics of maleness and femaleness — This category includes developmental differences in bone structure, as it affects the way we walk, their gestures, and body shape, as it affects posture (Reiman 2013).
- Modeling of same-sex role models — Children tend to model the behavior exhibited by their parents. Sons learn to copy the nonverbal patterns of their fathers while daughters model the behavior of their mothers.
Societal reinforcement of gender roles is believed to determine and shape ‘appropriate’ behavior for boys and girls (Reiman 2013). Positive reinforcement will increase the behavior while negative reinforcement will cause it to decline. During childhood play, boys are typically encouraged to participate in rougher, more physical activities while girls are encouraged to be more soft and nurturing.
These nonverbal differences are said to exist along the lines of the expectations of gender roles imposed by society. One of the ways that these differences have been explained is the concept of nature versus nurture. Nature refers to the biological evolution, neural structures, genes, and hormones while nurture relates to culture, societal roles, stereotypes, and settings.
Scientific evidence proving differences in nonverbal communication among genders
Recent advances in biological psychology, molecular genetics, and neuroscience have found that scientific evidence supports the theory of nature versus nurture as it refers to gender (Reiman 2013). The influence of sex and gender differences begins early in life and effect the communication style of the individual into adulthood. Studies show that differences in language can be observed as early as preschool.
Through childhood, girls tend to make more requests, use more words, and use language to create harmony while boys are more inclined to make demands, use more actions than words, and create conflict. Women are said to use psychical contact more often and young girls are more comfortable with physical contact than young boys (“Gender and Non-Verbal Communication”).
These gender stereotypes encourage men to be more aggressive and competitive, and male children are more encouraged to play with toys like guns and swords. Gender roles are established heavily and early. There are several differences in the way that men and women communicate nonverbally. Dr. Deborah Tannen, author of the book You Just Don’t Understand, states:
“Communication isn’t as simple as saying what you mean. How you say what you mean is crucial, and differs from one person to the next” (Schmidt).
Communication learned during childhood
Dr. Tannen continues to say that the majority of our communication skills are learned from childhood and that boys and girl are often taught vastly different lessons. For example, men are often more aware of personal space and tend to be withdrawn rather than bodily engaged, whereas women use bodily contact more frequently and are much warmer in their communication (Schmidt).
Men also desire more personal space, usually only touch each other when engaged in playful aggression, and have the tendency to move around more when they are uncomfortable. Women, on the other hand, tend to align their bodies to face the other person, use more hand gestures, and typically sit still. Further, women have shown to be more fluid in their gestures while men have been observed to have sharp, direct movements (Merchant 2012).
There are differences in posture, as well; while women are more likely to keep their arms near their bodies and cross their legs, men often have wider postures and stand with their arms further away from their bodies and their legs apart. Clearly, the body language of men and women are highly different and can make communication between the genders a bit cloudy.
Facial expressions in men and women
There are also marked differences in the way that men and women communicate via their facial expressions. According to Dr. Tannen, men use more head movements while women often move their heads less frequently (Schmidt). Furthermore, women are more inclined to express their emotion through their facial expressions and they smile more often. Conversely, men attempt to conceal or control their emotional displays through their facial expression and smile less than women do.
Gender portrayal in advertisements is a good example of the different facial expressions gender facial communications. Men are seen working on a task. Typically, the only emotions conveyed are agitation or interest. Women, on the other hand, display a wide range of emotions through their facial expressions, including joy, passion, confusion, etc.
Another difference in nonverbal communication between the sexes is that men tend to be more visually dominant than women, which is defined as the ratio of the time spent maintaining eye contact while talking to the time spent maintaining eye contact while listening (Reiman 2013). Nonverbal communication also differs between men and women in their positioning during communication.
Men tend to sit side-by-side or stand at a distance from each other, as a face-to-face position can sometimes indicate a challenge while women sit facing each other and closer together, indicating a more intimate relationship in order to more easily connect (“Gender and Non-Verbal Communication”). The way men and women communicate through their facial expressions are opposites, making nonverbal communication a bit difficult.
Nonverbal communication in the workplace, dating, and social interaction
Gender roles are usually defined in the workplace, and the way men and women communicate can affect the way they interact in the workplace. Women, for example, tend to focus on building up relationships with each other by sharing experiences. Men, though, tend to share experiences as a way to one-up each other. In addition, women attempt to build relationships with the people they work with while men attempt to assert their status and dominance in the workplace hierarchy.
This can cause an issue in communication because while a woman might think she is building rapport with a man she works with, he may perceive the situation completely differently (Leigh 2010). The misinterpretation of the woman’s message will influence his response, which will not be an accurate reaction to what she was actually trying to convey.
Sexual interest between men and women
The differences in the way that men and women communicate nonverbally can have an effect on dating behaviors and social situations and relationships. As previously stated, when a woman is attempting to connect with someone, she is more likely to face them and touch them in an attempt to establish a rapport and relationship.
Men, on the other hand, are more likely to interpret the physical contact as an attempt to establish dominance or claim or express sexual interest (Merchant 2012). While women see the contact as an attempt to cooperate while men may see it as a more aggressive or assertive move.
Another way that dating and social relationships can be affected by differences in nonverbal communication between the sexes is that way that men and women interpret nodding. As noted earlier, men usually nod to show that they agree with something (Lieberman). Women, however, nod to show that they are listening.
Modern communication in social settings
Modern communication can have an effect on social and dating situations is the ways men and women interpret proximity. For example, women are likely to stand closer to each other as a way of attempting to create a sense of closeness and intimacy. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to see close proximity as aggressive or confrontational (Carnes 2015). Similarly, men are more likely to associate physical contact with sexual intentions, while women use physical contact to communicate sympathy or friendship.
If a man and woman are communicating and the woman believes she is establishing a relationship while the man believes that she is being aggressive, this can cause a misinterpretation of the other’s communication (Carnes 2015). Likewise, if a man is standing close to a woman to establish his interest in her, she might think he is merely trying to connect with her, causing another lapse in communication between them.
It cannot be denied that men and women communicate differently. Several of these differences in communication occur in nonverbal communication. Women are more likely to use nonverbal communication to establish and maintain relationships. They are inclined to nod to show they are listening when someone is speaking, they use physical contact and close proximity to build relationships and rapport, and they are more likely to interpret these actions in other people as friendly, sympathetic, and non-confrontational.
Men, though, are more likely to nod if they agree, use physical contact to establish aggression or sexual interest, and may be inclined to interpret physical contact the same way. When members of the opposite sex interact with one another in the workplace or in dating and social situations, these differences can make for misinterpretation in communication.
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Carnes, David. “Do Men & Women Use Nonverbal Communication Differently?”LiveStrong.com. EuroStar, 17 May 2015. Web. 19 Nov. 2015.
“Gender and Non-Verbal Communication.” West Virginia Department of Education. WVDE, N.d. Web. 19 Nov. 2015.
Leigh, Edward. “Men & Women Communicating in the Workplace.” The Center for Healthcare Communications. The Center for Healthcare Communications, 2010. Web. 19 Nov. 2015.
Lieberman, Simma. “Differences in Male and Female Communication Styles.” Simma Lieberman Associates. GHI Internet Services, N.d. Web. 19 Nov. 2015.
Merchant, Karima. “How Men And Women Differ: Gender Differences in Communication Styles, Influence Tactics, and Leadership Styles.” Diss. Claremont College CMC Senior Theses and Student Scholarship. Claremont College. 2012. Web. 19 Nov. 2015.
Reiman, Tonya. “Gender Differences.” Body Language University. BodyLanguageUnversity.com, 2013. Web. 19 Nov. 2015.
Schmidt, John. “Gender Differences in Communication.” DateHookUp.com. Date Hook Up, N.d. Web. 18 Nov. 2015.