THE SCIENCE OF GENDERED NON VERBAL COMMUNICATION
Table of Contents
Non verbal cues are often used to communicate some innate feelings that the individual maybe experiencing. Understanding non verbal cues is necessary towards ensuring sufficient and positive human interaction. However, mastering the non verbal cues in itself is difficult, since this form of communication though direct is also ambiguous. The resulting miscommunication can often be due to differences in communication patterns and especially where the individual passing the message and the individual receiving the message are of different genders. There have been several attempts to describe and understand gender communication. According to (Manusov and Patterson 2006), majority of scholars defies gender communication as the expressions applied by one gender when attempting to pass on a message in heir relationships. For several decades, researchers have been interested in mastering the distinguishable differences in non verbal communication among the genders. The results however, have often drawn conflicting views with few agreements in between. Whereas some scholars hold onto the view that differences in non verbal communication are due to biological differences, others insist that the same differences are as a result of social upbringing and psychological structuring.
From the data gathered, majority of the women often turned to hand gestures as a form of non verbal communication. This is in occurrence with many studies and assumptions, where women are found to involve hand gestures in their conversations. Men on the other hand are much lower in terms of hand gestures that is only 34% of the men are found to have expressive hand gestures. Furthermore, women tend to have more detailed and structured hand gestures as opposed to the men. The collection of hand gestures are more, they include a variation of messages and are applied in various environments. Even when unaware, women tend to apply more hand gestures. Men on the other hand are more restrained, often turning to other forms of expressions.
For the social learner scholars the use of hand gestures can easily be attributed to the fact that women seem more open and outgoing. Further, from traditional times women have often been suppressed in communication and have therefore had to rely more on the non-verbal cues. On the other hand, hand gestures as used by men are often found to be too emotional. In addition, they can be easily misconstrued as a form of violence. It is therefore not surprising that men are less willing to apply hand gestures.
The hypothesis in this area is that women again tend to use more facial expressions than the men. The results of the field work upheld this observation. Of the participants who were observed, 65% f the women showed significantly more facial expressions. While for the men, facial expressions can easily be categories into groups of emotions; for the women the array of facial expressions is much richer and more difficult to categories. Several facial expressions tend to fall in the same category of emotions. This is however not to be confused with complexity of such facial expressions but rather the ambiguity of the message being communicated.
Social constructionists are of the view that facial expressions and eye contact in women is used to establish a connection with the individual. As such there is often an array of emotions which fall into the expressions phase. Men on the other hand, are cultured to sever any emotional connections, show as little emotions as possible. In addition, women are usually more focused on facial expressions in an attempt to gauge trust and sincerity. Based on this, they tend to mirror the expressions they desire from the other party when communicating.
The subject of touching has been reviewed strongly by many researchers. The conclusions are however contrasting each other. From the field work, the subject of touching and observations drew several conclusions and enriched the data in several ways. The data gathered was subdivided into several categories as seen below:
Woman to woman communication: Among women, touching was prevalent. In fact all the participants observed were comfortable touching and being touched as a form of non verbal communication. Touching among women is often viewed as a form of expressing empathy and friendship to the other woman. Women feel more comfortable touching each other even when in a group of others. When in a group with men for example, women tended to exhibit more touching among themselves that is their own gender. Whether a pat on the shoulder or slight touch on the hand, women are definitely more comfortable with touching among themselves.
Man to man communication: Very little touching was observed among the men. In fact, where touching was observed, the individuals touched showed signs of discomfort and annoyance. Men whether despite their sexual orientation, often interpret touching with sexual interest. As such, they tend to minimize touching among themselves as this could easily be misconstrued as a declaration of sexual interest.
Communication between both genders: In a conversation where both genders are involved, women exhibited more comfort and use of touching. However, it should be noted that although there was presence of touching it was much less than where the conversation was between women. In this conversation again men exhibited much lower percentages and frequencies of touching. This could be attributed to the same reason that men often assimilate touching with sexual interest. Further, there are times that touching can be misconstrued as aggression. Either way, men are socially programmed to restrain from non verbal touching especially where the opposite gender is concerned.
Majority of the research has often suggested in a communication setting, one gender is often the leader, drawing the conversation and often guiding and leading the conversation. During this study two conflicting views were observed. First, men tend to start the conversation where two genders are concerned. Where men showed a lack of interest in conversing with the other party, the conversation immediately died down. (Grinder 1997) indicates that this could be a result of culture, where women are often trained and socialized to let the men lead. Similarly men are equipped with skills that build their egos and the desire to always lead. This could easily be observed in a conversion or communication setting of two men. Such conversation was plagued with competition to see who could start, lead and directs the conversation. Interruptions were plenty and often led to a change in the topic.
A conflicting view observed, was that even though majority of the men started the conversations; women tended to have more power in directing the conversation. They were also more likely to interrupt the conversation with new tidbits of information. In this way, they carried a large portion of the conversation despite the men instigating the same conversation. Interestingly when the conversation was among females, it was possible to observe a hierarchical system. However, the hierarchy unlike that of men which is based on competition to appear as the alpha male was based more on friendship and the underlying currents of power in the group. Women tended to defer to particular individuals during the conversation. It seems that among women, each individual has particular strengths and skills which all the others in the group defer to during the conversation.
Gender conformity: as observed women and men tend to act differently as inspired by their own socialization. Men for example, have non verbal cues which draw attention to their masculinity and tend to down play their emotional selves. On the other hand women are more drawn to their emotions, although they tend to take a submissive role in the communication and conversations. Conformity revolves around acceptance not just of status but also of the roles which society has placed on a particular gender. whereas today’s society does not place much significance on gender roles, observation of non verbal conversations shows individuals trying to conform to the expectations and roles they deem society has placed on them. For example, women do not take initiative to start conversations unless where they are forced by other obligations. Instead they defer the leadership role to the men and take up the follower role.
Social construction: Stanton (2009) states that like language and behavioral roles, majority of the non verbal cues are socialized into individuals. The non verbal cues exist within culture and children of different genders are socialized into making use of different cues based on these genders. Men for example are expected to show no emotion, they therefore master their facial expressions learning to use less of the facial muscles and remain impassive even during emotional conversations. On the other hand, women are socialized to motherhood, which includes a lot of emotional communication. They are therefore more comfortable with touch and facial expressions. They learn and master these skills from a young age. Gender communication is a social construction, that is involves psychological conditioning during the early formation years; this often translates to future interrelation communication behaviors. Non verbal communication among the genders can therefore be said to be a result of the society, existing cultures and the environment.
Grinder, M. (1997). The science of non verbal communication. Battle Ground, Wash: M. Grinder & Associates
Manusov, Valerie Lynn, and Miles L Patterson. 2006. The SAGE Handbook Of Nonverbal Communication. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications.
Stanton, N. 2009. Mastering Communication. London: Palgrave Macmillan