Observational Research on Gender Difference in Nonverbal Communication


In day-to-day communication, males and females use different nonverbal cues in communicating. The difference in interpretation of these cues leads to the genders not understanding one another. Women are found to use cues such as facial expressions and gestures more than men. In addition, they are found to maintain eye contact and observe closer distances when communicating. Men are found not to maintain eye contact but are fond of touching the other party when communicating.


Non-verbal communication refers to the use of signs and symbols in conveying or expressing oneself. There is a significant distinction between genders when it comes to non-verbal communication. Women are found to be more accustomed to the use of non-verbal cues when communicating than men. Some of the differences noticed in the manner in which men and women use nonverbal communication are with respect to distance maintained when communication, use of gestures, use of eye contact, and touch. From research conducted on the social gathering, it was established that women use nonverbal cues in communication more often than men.

Literature review

All scholars who have researched the gender difference in nonverbal communication posits that the idea of body language and posture between genders contribute greatly to their misunderstanding when communicating. This is because the manner in which one party presents him or herself during conversation may result in the other person becoming impatient, showing resentment, or even becoming nervous. For instance, a female manager may use various body language when issuing instructions to male staff leading to the male staff perceiving the manager to be incompetent (Burgoon, Buller & Woodall,1996, pp. 342-357). Some gestures portrayed by the manager may be interpreted by the male counterpart to signify nervousness in the manager while it is not the case. In the end, the two parties may end up not having communicated effectively. Similarly, a man may decide to be direct and concise when communicating with his female counterpart at the workplace. This may be an intention by the man to ensure that his female counterpart effectively understands her responsibilities and correct where she might be going astray (Weitz, 2005, pp. 175-184). However, the female may interpret this as implying that the man is angry with her. This may eventually lead to misunderstandings between the two.

According to Ivy and Backlund (2001, pp. 84-93), men do not like making eye contact when communicating. This is associated with authority, power and influence. For men, eye maintaining direct eye contact when communicating results in one becoming emotional. Contrary to this, women are found to maintain eye contact when communicating with their parties. This is to ensure that the other person concentrates and understands what she is trying to put across. During their communication, women are found to regularly break their eye contact. On the other hand, when a man comes into direct eye contact, he takes time to break the eye contact. In most cases, they do not realize that the eye contact is being reciprocated by the other party.

Research by Ivy and Backlund (2001, p. 143) indicates that women have high experience in using facial expressions when communicating than their men counterparts. As a way of ensuring the communicating party that they are still together, women usually smile when communicating. This is to encourage the person speaking and give him or her assurance that she understands what is being said. One thing that men do not understand when communicating with women is that despite them nodding their heads, they do not imply that they agree with all that is said. Because men do not in most cases use facial expression and nodding in their communication, they associate the idea of nodding one’s head as to imply that one agrees with what is said. This leads to them not arriving at a common ground when communicating with ladies. Men must confirm from female counterparts before making conclusions that they have agreed on what they were discussing.

There is a clear distinction between how both genders approach their parties when communicating. For women, prefer approaching their parties from the face and are found to be more comfortable when standing toe-to-toe with the other party. On the other hand, men prefer approaching their communicating parties from the side (Pearson, Turner & Todd-Mancillas, 1999, pp. 143-171). The main reason why women do not prefer approaching people from the side is that they perceive it to be unfriendly and detached. By communicating with a person using this body alignment, women feel that the person is not interested in what they are discussing. As a way of showing interest in the prevailing discussion, they use the front approach when communicating. Men tend not to prefer the front approach when communicating since they attribute it to being antagonistic. They also take the posture to be teasing thus making them uncomfortable. As men are more sensitive to distance maintained during communication, they also do not like using the front approach as they find it to be too close.

Tannen (1990, pp. 76-92) posits that men are more associated with touching when communicating. This is not practiced by women. The main objective of touching by men is to convince and make the other person agree with whatever they are talking about. As a result, men mostly prefer face-to-face communication as they are capable of influencing others to go with their opinions. Another research has extended the issue of nonverbal communication to workplaces. There are different attitudes and mannerisms exhibited by men at workplaces that are interpreted differently by their female counterparts. The idea of men talking in high tones when instructing their female staff as well as unconscious staring at them is at times interpreted as sexual harassment by female workers. This results in women being resentful at the workplace without men knowing the reason.


To effectively understand the gender difference in nonverbal communication students were asked to conduct a field study in the asocial gathering. Data was to be collected through observations and compilation to be done later. Students attended a social gathering organized by Kamuga Bank which organized for its two hundred staff. To ensure that information collected was accurate; staff was not informed about what students intended to do in the gathering. This ensured that students observed a true reflection of different genders using nonverbal cues when communicating with each other. The gathering comprised 120 males and 80 females. Students were divided into three groups where every group was given the responsibility of observing how one nonverbal cue is used. The first group was to look at distance maintained when different parties are communicating; the other group was to look at the various gestures used during communication while the last group was to observe how often different genders use facial expressions when communicating.


From the observation made by the students, women were found to be fond of using various gestures when communicating with others. Out of the eighty women, fifty-five were found to use hand gestures when communicating. This was to ensure that they effectively put across their ideas. Ladies were also found to nod their heads when communicating as a sign of showing the other person that they concentrated on what was being said. Of the observed men, only forty-two were found to use hand gestures when communicating. However, this only happened when one needed to convince his relations of what he was talking about. Men were found not to use gestures such as smiling and nodding of the head when communicating. The issue of touching when communicating was not found to be a common phenomenon among women. Despite them maintaining a closer distance when communicating, they were reluctant to touch their counterparts when communicating. On the other hand, 60% of the observed men were found to touch or pat their friends’ shoulders when communicating. When communicating, men were found not to maintain eye contact with their friends. Barely any man was found to maintain eye contact when communicating with female staff. On the other hand, sixty-five women were found to maintain eye contact when communicating with each other as well as when communicating with male staff. They were found to frequently break eye contact as the dialogue went on.

During communication, men were found to be sensitive to distance. They were found to maintain an approximately one-meter apart distance when communicating with other staff regardless of their gender. However, female staff was found to maintain close distance, especially when communicating with their female counterparts. Female staff was found to maintain a distance of about half a meter from one another. From the observation made, the students concluded that there was a clear distinction between genders in the use of nonverbal cues when communicating.

Reference List

  1. Burgoon, J. K., Buller, D. B. & Woodall, W. G. (1996). Nonverbal communication: The unspoken dialogue (2nd Ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
  2. Ivy, D. & Backlund, P. (2001). Exploring gender speak: Personal effectiveness in gender communication. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  3. Pearson, J., Turner, L. & Todd-Mancillas, W. (1999). Gender & communication. Dubuque, IA: William C. Brown.
  4. Tannen, D. (1990). You just don’t understand: Women and men in conversation. New York: Ballantine Books.
  5. Weitz, S. (2005). Sex differences in nonverbal communication. Sex Roles, 24(3), pp. 175-184.

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