Communication can be either verbal or nonverbal. Nonverbal communication is more immediate, but more ambiguous than verbal communication. Men and women differ significantly in their propensity to use nonverbal communication, their skill in interpreting it and their means of signaling their meaning. Accordingly, understanding gender differences in nonverbal communication is important when dealing with the opposite sex.
One of the reasons that men and women differ in their use of nonverbal communication is that their reasons for communicating are often different, according to John Gray, author of the best-seller "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus." Men generally communicate to transmit information and solve specific problems, while women usually use communication to express feelings and achieve emotional intimacy. Consequently, women tend to use nonverbal communication more than men.
Women are better than men at interpreting nonverbal signal, according to the website Body Language Expert. They are also better at reading unintentional nonverbal messages, such as signals of deception. Although men often send nonverbal signals, they typically do so with less subtlety than women.
Gestures and Mannerisms
Jo Freeman, author of "Women: A Feminist Perspective," asserts that men rely on more obvious gestures and are more likely to use their hands to express themselves. Women, on the other hand, tend to use more subtle and restrained gestures and exhibit deferential gestures, such as lowering the eyes when interrupted or confronted.
Women tend to make more eye contact during communication than men. Part of the reason for this is their tendency to use communication to establish emotional connection. In addition, women are more likely to use eye contact to gauge the sincerity of the other party. Women also generally rely more on facial expressions to convey their meaning or the intensity of their feelings.
Men tend to prefer face-to-face communication, while women are usually equally comfortable side-by-side with their partner. In accord with their greater desire for intimacy, women are generally more tolerant of close bodily proximity than men; in fact, men are more likely to perceive close proximity as a sign of aggressive or confrontational intent. Nevertheless, different cultures have different tolerances for bodily proximity, and these differences often exceed the difference between genders.
Since men are more likely than women to associate touching with sexual intentions, heterosexual men are less likely to use touch during conversation with other men. Women, on the other hand, are far less reticent about touching other women because they also use touching as an expression of friendship or sympathy.