In any setting or environment, many forms of communication take place. We usually emphasize verbal communication because it’s the most apparent way of interacting with others. However, the way we perceive nonverbal cues can be very important in fostering and maintain our relationships, whether they are personal or work related. I know that I personally have been known to over analyze nonverbal cues, as I pick up on any hint of discontent by another being. However, properly interpreting nonverbal cues can be a confusing process, but in doing so, we can create deeper connections with others.
Non verbal communication can be present in our facial expressions, body language, tone of voice, gestures and eye contact. They relay very important messages to the receiver, as their primary focus is on portraying a person’s emotional state, or attitude about a certain situation. However, it is vital to understand how to interpret these cues.
It’s funny to think that we even subconsciously pick up on other people’s non-verbal communication. This subconscious perception can be a powerful influence on how we treat certain situations. Nonverbal cues can serve many purposes. They can either repeat the message that is verbally portrayed or contradict this message. As well, non verbal signals can substitute for verbal communication completely. This is done solely by portraying ones feeling or attitude through body language and facial expression. Nonverbal cues can also complement a verbal message, like a thumbs up after receiving verbal praise.
There are differences between genders and their degree of interpreting and sending non-verbal cues. A stereotypical feature is that women tend to not verbally express what they mean, but men are expected to pick up on these non-verbal cues. It has been shown in studies however, that women are moderately better at sending and receiving nonverbal signals. This can create quite a conundrum between the two sexes in their perception of wants and needs. Women, as a result, send stronger nonverbal cues and expect men to interpret them, like the classic situation of a man asking a woman if everything is alright, and her disdained reply of “I’m fine”—which can be interpreted differently whether the receiver is male or female. A women would perceive the “I’m fine” speech, with its correlated tone and facial expression as just as important as the words themselves. As a result, a woman would pick up on the actuality of the situation, that the woman is not truly fine, even in saying so, as she is sending a contradicting nonverbal cue. However, a man may hear “I’m fine” and interpret it as just that, the woman is content. Men tend to disregard some nonverbal cues, and put the emphasis solely on verbal communication.
In regards to gender differences in the use of non-verbal communication, it has been found that women are more likely to break eye contact more frequently than men, but men are less likely to make eye contact at all. I assume, with discussion from friends of both sexes, that this is because females like to be polite in having their full attention given to a conversation, which is relayed through the use of eye contact. However, eye contact is broken easily as females do not want to stare as it can be seen as impolite. Males however, may find eye contact unnecessary or intrusive, and as a result refrain from using it most of the time. One article by Edward Hall relayed that women approach people more closely, and prefer side by side conversations. Men, in turn, prefer face-to-face conversations.
Overall, we must take into consideration how each gender values various forms of communication, and to what degree they will be able to perceive different cues to fully appreciate all forms of communication we are able to receive. Understanding these cues is vital in any environment to create deeper and more meaningful connections with other human beings.
DELANEY, D. J., & HEIMANN, R. A. (1966). EFFECTIVENESS OF SENSITIVITY TRAINING ON THE PERCEPTION OF NON-VERBAL COMMUNICATIONS. Retrieved from Kwantlen Database: PsycINFO: http://web.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.kwantlen.ca:2080/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=6427031f-b2c7-44f3-9c9d-c32edb5d2848%40sessionmgr14&vid=6&hid=24
Ivy, D., and Backlund, P. (1994). Exploring gender speak: Personal effectiveness in gender communication. New York: McGraw-Hill.
N/A. (n.d.). The Power of Non-verbal Communication and Body Language. Retrieved May 16, 2011, from Help Guide: http://helpguide.org/mental/eq6_nonverbal_communication.htm
Edward Hall’s [The Hidden Dimension (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, 1966)]