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Gender-based Nonverbal Communication

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How do people act on a date, in a job interview, or just in a club with their friends and observing an attractive person across the room? What does a best friend look like when angry, and how can parents tell when their kids are lying? Body language is at the heart of nonverbal communication, and psychologists say it accounts for more of the messages we pass to one another than all the things we say combined. John Napier, a famous Scottish mathematician, and theologian, said:

“If language was given to men to conceal their thoughts, then gesture’s purpose was to disclose them.”

Here we’ll take a look at female body language, male body language, workplace body language, friendship and social circles body language, and everything in between. This essay sample communication essay will help students prepare for their next research paper.

Female body language

Merriam-Webster defines body language as “the gestures, movements, and mannerisms by which a person or animal communicates with others.” While much body language is the same or similar between men and women, there are differences between the how the two express themselves. Men and women display different body language, which is the most diverse in courtship behavior. In other words, flirting. There are many versions of body language which are flirtatious – Vanessa Van Edwards, author of Human Lie Detection and Body Language 101, noted that the “come hither” looks women are famous for are simply explained. Raising eyebrows and lowering eyelids, glancing over the shoulder, pushing hair back over the shoulder, touching the neck, and tilting the head to one side all release pheromones, which men then detect.

Van Edwards also stated that limp wrists, plucked eyebrows, and smaller stature all combine to produce a more vulnerable, and therefore more desirable, woman. Large eyes, small noses, full lips, and high cheekbones also indicate high levels of estrogen, meaning that a woman is more fertile. Men are more attracted to women with open personalities than they are to women with a certain face shape, as well. So how will all this help women when they see an attractive man? Van Edwards says that men miss three out of four body language courtship signals on average – meaning that a woman has to be persistent, so maybe flip her hair over her shoulder, raise her eyebrows, expose a wrist, and look down at the same time…and then do it twice more while he’s looking. That should get a woman some digits or a free drink, at the very least. Despite Van Edwards’ ideas on submissiveness, in a sense a type of gender discrimination, being assertive is not necessarily a turn-off for men, and standing with feet spread apart can indicate greater confidence.

Science doesn't back up the theory

Scientifically speaking, there is a reason why women are considered more observant than men: because they are. Monika Moore, a prominent researcher on the subject, performed an experiment on body language using a silent movie. Women correctly decoded what was happening 87 percent of the time, while men only decoded it correctly 42 percent of the time. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) shows us that men have 4 to 6 brain areas active while evaluating others, but women have a whopping 14 to 16 areas working. Getting down to brass tacks, here are the top most attractive female body language movements and gestures: smiling, having an expressive face; keeping hand below chin level; using minimal arm crossing; keeping hands visible and not in pockets; triple head nodding (shows interest); intimate eye gazing (working down from eyes to mouth to body); leaning in; and subtle mirroring (imitate of the other person’s movements).

Male body language

Male body language is dominated by less expression, more personal space, and more dominant behaviors, in general. Van Edwards notes that the women love men’s legs, butt, chest, and arms. Not surprisingly, most women say a man’s butt is their favorite feature. Men use, on average, 13,000 fewer words per day than women, states Van Edwards. Of course, if men are communicating less with words, then they are communicating more with body language.

Men are not as adept at interpreting body language as women, and their motivations for lying are more geared toward impressing other people than protecting other people’s feelings or making them feel better about themselves – as women’s are. Men like availability more than good looks in a woman, and men lie about themselves eight times more than they do about others. Men point their toes toward a person they are attracted to – literally pointing their toes toward where they want to go; in this case, toward a particular woman. Men take up space in order to appear dominant – similar to a bear. In a work situation, such as a networking event or a meeting, note where a man’s toes are pointing and the person with the most leadership power in the room will be there.

The top signs a man is interested in a woman are: raising eyebrows quickly and letting them fall; nostril flaring and an open face; attempting to get a woman’s attention (exaggerated or subtle movement); clothing adjustments (we’re not talking about the rude kind, but something more along the lines of stroking a tie, smoothing a lapel, pulling up socks, playing with buttons); smoothing or messing up hair; slightly raised eyebrows during conversation; or standing with his body erect in order to show off his physique. Visual voyaging (when a man lets a woman see him looking at her body), spreading the legs, standing with hands on hips, touching the face, playing with something round, guiding through a crowd with touch; or loaning an article of clothing are also male body language for “I like you.”

Workplace body language

Business Insider indicates that nonverbal communication skills are very valuable in business because trust is required for good business relationships and is a component of good leadership. As an example, Japanese body language in a business setting and that of an American business setting can vary wildly. Failure to understand the different signals being sent in a bi-cultural setting can often be the downfall of a successful business venture. Kevin Hogan notes that facial emotions in Japan are demonstrated predominantly with the eyes, whereas in America they are demonstrated mostly with the mouth.

Maybe due to this difference in interpreting emotion, the Japanese may be more advanced at detecting false smile and liars. In business and social situations, it is considered impolite in Japan to have the hands in the pockets while speaking to someone. Casual posture while speaking is also considered rude as is resting an ankle on the knee, or resting the feet on a chair (showing the soles of feet is inappropriate). Do not lean back comfortably in a chair; an erect posture shows respect. In Japan, personal space is larger than in the U.S., and patting people on the back is considered to be rude. Eye contact is considered a sign of engagement and paying attention in America; in Japan direct staring is considered impolite, as well. Silent consideration is a large part of business negotiating in Japan, as well, and jumping in to fill the silence will not gain points with a Japanese business partner.

Confidence plays important role

Energy, confidence, engagement, and honesty are also important for workplace success, and Tonya Reiman’s The Power of Body Language speaks to this idea. The most important body language cues to avoid in business are poor posture; failure to tone-match and body movement mirror; fidgeting or overly large hand movements; zero feedback through physicality or facial expression (more expression is desirable); no eye contact; weak or overbearing handshake; mismatching verbal and nonverbal signals; failure to smile; eye rolling; and defensive arm crossing or hiding hands. Forbes suggests standing tall and taking up space, widening stance, lowering vocal pitch, and power priming by thinking of a successful past circumstance that you are proud of. Maintaining positive eye contact, talking with the hands, using open gestures, and “steepling” the fingers are all helpful, whereas nervous gestures and laughter are not. Correct pressure and style of handshake is especially important among men’s workplace body language. 

For males and females both, an expressive face, uncrossed arms and legs, and showing hands helps build rapport – and among women especially. Although body language lore says that liars touch their faces repeatedly, body language is more complicated than that. Just one gesture is not sufficient for lie detecting; a cluster of subtle gestures from many parts of the body are more likely to indicate an untruthful response. Signs of disbelief such as averting the eyes or covering the mouth may express untruthfulness or embarrassment. Standing with hands on hips (known as akimbo) may indicate anger or aggression in Indonesia; however in the United States it may indicate powerful thinking or resting. Simply nodding is an excellent way to make someone agree with a statement, especially in a one-on-one conversation. Although body language is important in the workplace and in any human interaction, the Western Australian council who prohibited shrugging, eye-rolling, and signing in the workplace may be taking things a bit too far. After all, many body movements are unconscious actions, and it is hard to control something one is unaware of.

Nonverbal Communication: Friendship and socialization

More than 50 percent of all communication is performed through body language, and context is a key to interpretation of non-verbal cues. Stranger encounters virtually guarantee that people will lie, most of them in the first ten minutes. The avoidance of conflict or disinterest through deception is a common human trait. The signs for various common gestures in America and Japan (and other countries) can vary greatly, and since thee gestures are often second nature to us, it’s important to be careful in a different country. In Japan, for instance, holding the hands above the head and bringing them together to form a circle around the head means “ok” – similar to the thumbs up Americans are familiar with. The “thumbs down” sign is equivalent to crossing the arms in front of the chest – meaning “not okay.” Shaking a fist at someone in America means indicates anger, whereas in Japan, the index fingers are slowly raised to the sides of the head and left there like horns. Most people are familiar with the bow which is involved with giving, meeting, or leaving someone in Japan, as well.

While social media has influenced interpersonal communication, in any culture, there is specific body language associated with showing friendship, and although a person may be unaware that he or she is demonstrating it, it’s highly visible to others. First, private space is not an issue with close friends, and they will often be clustered together like cliques on a playground. People who are not friends often display a defensive body language, such as crossed arms, or a larger distance between them. People who sit very close to each other so that their body parts are unintentionally touching are most likely good friends, as well. While it isn’t hard to tell if another person is likeable or not, sometimes it’s hard to tell if another person likes someone – especially if they are of the opposite sex; there are also people that are just difficult to read.

Learning to interpret body language

A few ways to tell if someone is interested in something being said are if the person moves in or leans in closer; has relaxed, uncrossed limbs; maintains long periods of eye contact; or looks down or away out of shyness. This does not include staring at other men in the room, or refusing to make eye contact. That is a sign that the person is not interested in what is being said. Negative body language includes moving or leaning away, crossed arms or legs, looking away and to the side, and standing with feet pointed away from you. This is because the person is getting ready to run because the conversation is incredibly dull. Also, unconsciously scratching or rubbing the nose, eyes, and the back of the neck can indicate discomfort with a conversation topic or idea. Crossed arms, a familiar gesture in many cultures, can further show that a person is cold, closed, off, or frustrated with the situation – or possibly just really full because of eating too much.

Another cue to add to nonverbal communication in any circumstance is voice tone. Voice tone, although not technically words, can indicate far more about what a person is trying to convey than the actual words being used. For instance, many people can hear roommates arguing through the wall, but they can’t understand what they’re saying – these people still know that the roommates are angry. People can even tell that one person is angry at another, and that the second person is backing down and feels guilty about whatever the two are arguing about. This is the same intuition and tonal knowledge people use when listening to people speak in a foreign language. Although someone may not recognize the words, a person will definitely know if they are angry with one another or not. However, young adults and teens have a difficult time understanding body language and other forms of body language. This is because their communication skills are awkward and still developing

In any social or business situation (and the two can often be combined in this age of social and business networking), Business Insider recommends the following body language for making anyone take a shine to someone else. First, a person should not immediately smile when meeting someone – it can appear insincere and plastic. Instead, the person should pause and look at the other person’s face for a moment, and then let a “big, warm, responsive smile flood over your face and overflow into your eyes.” This is much more sincere and a clear response to meeting that particular person. Practicing “sticky eyes” is also effective – gluing the eyes to a conversation partner’s with “mental taffy.” Even after they’ve finished speaking, the other partner shouldn’t break eye contact. If one of the partners must look away, it should be done slowly and reluctantly to indicate regret for breaking up the current conversation. In a large group of people, or even when talking to one other person else, a conversation partner should occasionally return the gaze to the person they are interested in.

If this eye contact is overdone, it could become uncomfortable for everyone in the conversation, however. Pivoting the body completely towards the target person in the conversation demonstrates full attention. This is very important in the body language world. Credibility is increased with the absence of fidgeting, as well, so keep those twitches, squirms, or scratches to a minimum while trying to show interest in another person. Pretending that the cheeks are glued up as thresholds are passed will keep the expression positive and welcoming, as well. This is called “hanging by your teeth” and involves envisioning a leather horse-riding bit hanging from the doorway of each room, which raises the head into a confident position. Just smiling while entering a room, and holding the head and body up are sufficient, here. When meeting a new person, imagining that they are an old friend known for years will help with comfortability. This will also prevent subconscious, negative body language and make the target person feel very comfortable as well.

Understanding nonverbal communication 

Body language, like spoken language, is the key to communicating the ideas we talk about and consider every day. Examining personal body language traits can be enlightening, and a way to improve business and personal relationships across the board. Paying attention to the tone, gestures, body posture, and expressions of others may help decode their intentions much more quickly than listening to their words. In a business situation, noting who the most powerful person in the room is and striving to convince that person should create success. In an interview, using the “make anyone like you” techniques, as well as the business body language techniques to suggest openness will get attention. In relationships, many simple conversations hinge on body language, and increasing knowledge and practicing positive signals may increase overall happiness.


Body language (2015). In Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Retrieved from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/body%20language

Van Edwards, V. (2013). Female body language. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/vanessa-van-edwards/female-body-language_b_3469175.html

 Van Edwards, Vanessa. Human Lie Detection and Body Language 101: Your Guide to Reading People’s Nonverbal Behavior. Seattle: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2013. Print.

Moore, Monika. The Body Language Project. New York: Gridiculous, 2011. Ebook.

“Reading Body Language: Japanese vs. American.” Kevinhogan. Network 3000 Publishing, n.d. Web. 29 Jun. 2015.

“10 Proven Tactics for Reading People’s Body Language.” Businessinsider. Business Insider, Inc., 2015. Web. 29 Jun. 2015.

“How to Read Body Language More Effectively.” Lifehacker. Lifehacker, 2014. Web. 29 Jun. 2015.

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