People spend a majority of their lives communicating more than any other voluntary or involuntary act. Whether it is by constructing towering skyscrapers, dressing for the weather, or cuddling during a movie, people infinitely transmit both verbal and nonverbal signals. A vast majority of the way people communicate is done non-verbally through gestures, clothing, paralanguage, surroundings, and even in writing. Without being able to converse without speaking, a large percentage of what is really meant to be understood would be lost.
Traditionally, communication between men and women and communication amongst both men and women halts at an impasse due to gender communication differences. Although both genders naturally assume different communication styles, working actively towards understanding those differences can help bridge the gap in effectively exchanging information in a healthy way. But ultimately, women seem to be the most natural communicators both verbally and nonverbally, although this is only because they are more naturally tuned into communicating on multiple levels.
Since a picture is worth a thousand words, and actions speak louder than words, the pie graph below from Maximum Advantage demonstrates the percentage of communication that is channeled through nonverbal behaviors and cues (“Nonverbal communication,” 2010):
In order to explore the classic crossing of communicated messages in intersex conversation, it is important to understand exactly what nonverbal communication is. According to Andrews University, nonverbal communication “involves those nonverbal stimuli in a communication setting that are generated by both the source [speaker] and his or her use of the environment and that have potential message value for the source or receiver [listener] (“Non-verbal communication modes,” 2010).” What this means is that a direct message is translated to the listener or observant without creating that message verbally. The way one sits, stands, gazes, and dresses are specific ways in which to convey a particular tone or indicate a mood or intention. It can be assumed that an architect of skyscrapers may intend for those who view it to be intimidated or humbled. Displaying photographs of friends and family in an office or cubicle can imply that the person who occupies that desk is sociable and finds importance in their personal relationships. All of these things, among others, demonstrate examples of nonverbal communication. This communication usually begins with the speaker’s desired objective and what they wish to express to their listener. Since the exact tone and direction is only clear to the person wishing to express it, they must “encode” their message in both their words and their actions or inactions to get their point across, the latter frequently being subconscious. The listener is then left to identify the speaker’s intentions and decipher what it is that the other person is attempting to say based on their words and actions (Miller, & Perlman, 2009). Nonverbal communication itself can be difficult to understand if the speaker and listener are not clearly on the same stream of consciousness, and this is often intensified between sexes.
Research has strongly suggested that women are more adept at both sending and receiving nonverbal cues, although both men and women are equally capable of being both senders and receptors (Miller, & Perlman, 2009). In a matter of how nonverbal messages and physical cues are delivered and understood, women are both more alert to a more fine distinction in nonverbal cues and more proficient at purposefully sending nonverbal cues. A personal example of which being a wife or significant other who frequently uses the word “fine” to shortly describe how they are doing, when it is clear in their paralanguage or undertone, that they are not fine and are in fact angered or unmoved by something (paralanguage) (Exploring nonverbal communications, 2010). This is usually accompanied by a gesture of arms being crossed at the chest, which is typically a defensive mechanism, or hands on their hips, a show of attitude. While men often exclaim their distaste with having to be “mind readers,” the source of the tension is usually evident simply by using their eyes to hear the subtle nonverbal cues. According to Miller and Perlman, women are more adequately equipped to comprehend nonverbal cues naturally; women are the more emotionally mature and sensitive sex, and therefore they always have a higher capacity to subconsciously and accurately pinpoint nonverbal communication (Miller, & Perlman, 2009).
While men are just as capable of being effective nonverbal communicators with purpose, it is actually men who have tested as the more dominant nonverbal communicator subconsciously. In a study conducted by the University of Wisconsin La Crosse Department of Psychology, men were interpreted to have more dominance in intersex nonverbal behavior by using “high status cues” and proximity than women (Olson, 1999). Men tend to mimic the behavior of other men, and adopt more open postures than women, such as lounging casually with their arms behind their head and their legs sprawled out relaxed (Miller, & Perlman, 2009). They are also more likely to misread nonverbal cues if they are not invested in the conversation, or at a discord with the person they are conversing with. Men typically do not have the same intimacy in conversation that women do, not because of the sensitivity level being lower in men, but because men are not often taught to engage themselves too closely in intimate situations. In fact, a common misconception that many women have is that a man seems disengaged from conversation if the looks around, shifts what seems to be uncomfortably (kinesics), or makes extraneous noises simply because those factors indicate a lack of interest in the conversation (Exploring nonverbal communications, 2010). However, this in theory is because looking into another man’s eyes for too long can be perceived as a threat and looking too deeply into a woman’s eyes is a form of weakness or indicates a lustful or sexual desire (Tannen, 1990). Men are taught as boys to behave in different ways than girls are. While women stay engaged, and may even touch frequently while talking and making consistent eye contact, men do the opposite to seem tuned in without seeming too absorbed or over connected. One study even shows that although people who refuse to make consistent eye contact are in fact being deceitful or not opening up entirely, that may not be the case as recent studying shows people who lie are more likely to look someone in the eye to avoid avoiding eye contact (Navarro, 2009).
When considering gender roles and gender bias that has transcended through time, it is easy to consider how these differences came to develop. Almost naturally, women are assumed to be the physically weaker sex, but also the more instinctual and emotional sex. Women make connections by sharing experiences, and tend to strengthen connections by looking directly at one another and might even slightly touch while talking (haptics) (Exploring nonverbal communications, 2010). Their gestures tend to be much more grandiose than any gestures men might make while interacting, thus making their reactions more visible. This also enables women to recognize social or behavioral cues much more readily than a man might, since men tend to face away from each other for long periods of time while speaking, making gestures less necessary, as well as developing a weaker reception to nonverbal cues (Tannen, 1990). This point is further emphasized in the text with the example of a husband and wife whose wires cross because of a poor foundation of communication. Women are natural “encoders” and “decoders,” meaning senders and receptors. So, it stands to reason that if a specific and clear message is sent both verbally and nonverbally from one end, it should be received and comprehended easily. When an unbiased third party is partial to it, if they pick up on the same cue that was sent, it implies that the receiving party is simply not communicating effectively to understand the meaning. In most cases, the receiving party is generally men, since they tend to send less nonverbal subtlety and therefore might not pick it up (Miller, & Perlman, 2009). Upon demonstrating this point, a man tells a complete stranger that he dislikes her. While he does this, he shakes her hand earnestly, smiles genuinely, and she laughs it off. His nonverbal cues indicated that he may just be joking, or using sarcasm to lighten the conversation. Or worse, he could be saying what he honestly feels, but portrays it in a way that she might not pick up on, or take immediate offense to even though she should (Endress, 2010).
Studies show that ultimately, women and men are both capable of receiving and transmitting understandable nonverbal communications, but women are at a higher perception level for decision making (Pavlova et al., 2010). The most important matter of reaction is a matter of stimulation; if any one person is stimulated or aggravated by an outside force; it shows on their body language, in their tone, and sometimes on their face (Navarro, 2009).
After reading through the assigned text for this study, I have to break the fourth wall and say that I am intrigued by the material. I have taken communications courses previously, but find the information presented in these materials to be much more understanding. Miller and Perlman present their case for the differences in male-female communication as more than a Venus vs. Mars type of comparison. There are plenty of times that I chastise my spouse for not feeling as if he is in the room when we discuss something, or that he does not look me in the eyes, and I forget that he was brought up to look his mother in the eyes when he had done something wrong or gotten in trouble. I was taught to look people in the eyes to make a connection. Additionally, the inclusion of interpersonal distance was interesting as well. For a long time, I have wondered why it is perfectly acceptable for his mother to hug him affectionately in a social setting, but when I do it, he shies away as if it were unacceptable. I have come to realize this may be a subconscious assertion of power, not only in the relationship, but in general.
I agree as well that perhaps women are better or more effective as communicators. The complaint that women always want to share their “feelings” and talk about emotions is dead-on; as stereotypical as it may be, women are willing to share their thoughts to make a connection, or touch to feel connected. Most men just don’t want to share their feelings verbally because they were never taught to. It is much easier to express emotions or thoughts physically, rather than emotionally, which I am told is a reason that men cheat on their spouses. The physicality is how men make connections, while most women cheat for the emotional lack of connection in their relationships. I could be wrong, but this is just from personal observation and experience. I believe I am on the same stream of consciousness as the authors as far as the differences between how men and women communicate on separate mediums, and I believe this to be true out of first-hand experience and observation.
Endress, P. (Artist). (2010). Nonverbal communication demonstration. [Web]. Retrieved from http://www.maximumadvantage.com/non-verbal-communication-demonstration.html
Exploring nonverbal communications. UC Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, California. Retrieved from http://nonverbal.ucsc.edu/
Miller, R, & Perlman, D. (2009). Intimate relationships, p.143-176. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Companies Inc.
Navarro, J. (2009, October 25). Body language myths [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/spycatcher/200910/body-language-myths
Navarro, J. (2009, October 28). The Key to understanding body language [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/spycatcher/200910/the-key- understanding-body-language
Nonverbal communication. (2010). Retrieved from http://www.maximumadvantage.com/nonverbal-communication.html
Non-verbal communication modes. (2010, May 14). Retrieved from http://www.andrews.edu/~tidwell/lead689/NonVerbal.html
Olson, B. (1999). Perceptions of nonverbal communication: a comparison of corporate and undergraduate samples.
Manuscript submitted for publication, Department of Psychology, University of Wisconsin La Crosse, La Crosse, Wisconsin. Retrieved from http://murphylibrary.uwlax.edu/digital/jur/1999/olson.pdf
Pavlova, M, Guerreschi, M, Lutzenberger, W, Sokolov, A, & Krägeloh-Mann, I. (2010). Cortical response to social interaction is affected by gender.. NeuroImage, 50(3), Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com.ezproxy1.apus.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=48 380764&site=ehost-live doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2009.12.096
Tannen, D. (1990). You just don’t understand me, p.267-272. New York, NY: Ballantine Books.