We’ve often heard, “Men are from Mars, women are from Venus,” in relation to the differences between men and women, but how true is that when it comes to communication? Are communication styles vastly different?
Undeniably, there are some differences in communication styles, and people and organizations alike can benefit by making themselves aware of these differences. Of course, not every man or woman is bound to directly mimic these communication styles. In fact, Simma Lieberman states that certain male and female styles are found in at least 55% of the population. That means up to 45% may not fit the description – and rarely is any person a perfect example of all differences.
Below are some key areas in which communication can differ, and I encourage you to observe these differences in your day-to-day life to pick up on the intricacies!
Gender Differences in Communication
Though gender differences in communication are not inherent, boys and girls are socialized quite differently. Rather than being genetic or biological, communication styles are largely attributed to socialization. Communication can take place as verbal and non-verbal cues, but largely, has the same goals.
Women tend to communicate to build friendships and create a support system, and men are looking to offer advice and seek control as well as avoid failure. Men typically offer solutions to problems mentioned in conversation, while women don’t necessarily want solutions, they just want to be heard. Women can offer unsolicited advice, and a man can see that as questioning his ability, while a woman sees unsolicited solutions as invalidating feelings.
Mistakes usually arise in communication between men and women from not recognizing differences between the styles of non-verbal and verbal communication!
Verbal vs Non-Verbal
Verbal communication includes words, sounds, or speaking – essentially anything auditory. Tone, pitch, and volume all impact the way verbal communication is received. Verbal communication also includes written communication.
Non-verbal communication includes eye contact, facial expressions, body language, and gestures. Timing, movement, and aspects of touch all factor into non-verbal communication as well. Do you remember reading articles in Seventeen, Tiger Beat, or CosmoGirl that described non-verbal ways to discern if your crush liked you? They may have included anything from facing towards you, pupils widening, or even light touch.
Typically, people use a combination of both verbal and non-verbal communication in each interaction, though non-verbal communication is recognized more frequently as meaning “something deeper.” Non-verbal communication can reiterate, contradict, substitute, or complement the spoken interaction, so essentially, they complement each other.
Awareness of both verbal and non-verbal communication styles will help you better understand the signals that you’re sending others, as well as interpret the behaviors of others.
Below are some specific examples of how men and women tend to differ.
Did you know that men and women differ in the usage of eye contact? Psychology Today states that women utilize eye contact to interpret how they are being perceived and to bond with others. They also state that this is partially why women adorn their eyes with eyeshadow and mascara!
Have you ever noticed that men tend to stare more than women? Men utilize eye contact to express dominance and show status. To men, eye contact isn’t necessarily for communication purposes, it is to show another person that they are unafraid and up to the task at hand. Conversely, women may lower their gaze to show submission, even unintentionally.
Everyone knows what a typical sad, angry, or happy face looks like, but you may be surprised to learn that our faces can make over 10,000 facial expressions including variations of contempt, disgust, fear, and anticipation.
Overall, women use more facial expressions and smile more than men. This is because, as children, women are taught to use more body language to appease and get along with others. In professional settings, it is recommended that women smile purposefully rather than constantly and that men express more facially to relay emotion or agreement. Facial expressions should operate as an effective way to communicate rather than something beyond your control.
Paralanguage encompasses any non-speech sound that modifies the meaning of speech. It includes power, pitch, emotional vocalizations, and even silence. Paralanguage is used primarily by women to show agreement and understanding, while men do so less frequently.
Some examples of paralanguage include “mhm,” “uh-huh,” “hmm,” and “oh,” as well as head nodding or shrugging. While paralanguage can help us emphasize and empathize, it does not effectively cross cultural barriers, so both men and women need to be mindful when communicating between cultures.
Body Language & Gestures
Men typically desire a greater level of personal space and move frequently when uncomfortable. Women usually face people when they’re speaking and utilize more hand gestures, though they sit more still. In a professional situation, considering your body language and gestures can be more beneficial to grasp your audience’s attention.
Whether you’re communicating with a man or a woman, there’s no denying that communication is an important aspect of your overall image, and how you’re perceived by others. Understanding the key differences in communication between males and females can help to decipher sometimes complex social situations, and project a confident, poised image. Besides enhancing communication skills, you may want to consider image consultant courses as an additional way to improve your image to others.