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Are Man and Woman Equals in Nonverbal Communication?

Men, women and nonverbal communication research—informative and fun!

Over the years, a considerable amount of research has been conducted in nonverbal communication with some dedicated to the differences between men and women. This article gives a brief overview of some of the more notable research studies concerning some noteworthy differences between men and women in regards to nonverbal communication. It is important to note that nonverbal communication is not just body language.

Beards = dominance? Being 'hot' holds back women?

Body language is just one element of nonverbal communication while other elements include voice tone, the environment, touch, and appearance. If you are interested in reading more about how all of these elements jointly, in a gestalt manner, contribute to nonverbal communication during interactions [read more here].

Enjoy this list and I hope it helps you consider the role of all the nonverbal communication cues and elements during your next interaction regardless if you are a man or woman!

Women are Less Influential

A study showed women were less influential, especially with men. Further, the same study showed that women can be perceived as competent with men when they are also using immediacy and rapport building cues such as smiling and head nodding. For women, it seems competence without these immediacy cues did not equate to effectiveness in regards to being influential with men. (Carli, 2001)

Beards (for Men!) Equals Dominance!

Beards increase men's perceived head size and consequently increases dominance. (Mehrabian, 1976)

Women- Expressive But Lacking Control?

Women are more spontaneously emotionally expressive yet also have less ability in controlling their emotions. (Tucker &Riggio, 1988). Women are better expressing themselves both during spontaneous and posed facial accuracy (Buck, Miller, & Caul, 1974; Friedman, Riggio, &Segall, 1980; Wagner, Buck, &Winterbotham, 1993; Zaidel&Mehrabian, 1969).

Hey Doc!

Women Physicians spend an average of 2 minutes longer talking to their patients compared to male physicians and engage in more rapport building/patient centeredness (Roter, Hall, & Aoki, 2002).

Short Men Need Not Apply

Tall men get hired more often; improves overall chances of success (Mehrabian, 1977); are perceived to be more attractive; have a greater chance for advancement within a corporation (Morris, 1977); have higher self-esteem, more likely to have a leadership position, and make more money (Jung & Cable, 2004).

Women Are Smarter Than Men

...In regards to judging the meanings of nonverbal communication at least (Hall, 1984& 2006; McClure, 2000). This starts at a young age too—beginning in primary school (Hall, 1984; Rosenthal et al., 1979) and for the most part, applies to many cultures (Dickey & Knower, 1941; Izard, 1971; Merten, 2005; Rosenthal et al., 1979).

Men Can Get Better (At Decoding At Least)

Men who had training in nonverbal communication decoding did show improvements in decoding (Keeley-Dyerson et al., 1991). This coincides with research for men and women that demonstrates practice does help with a variety of skills such as decoding facial expressions and reading social signals (Beck & Feldman, 1989; Costanzo, 1992; Nixon & Bull, 2005).

Are Women Better at Picking Out Liars?

Sorry women, you do not have an advantage trying to pick out liars over men (Asmodt & Custer, 2006).

'Hot' Is Not Always Good

A women's attractiveness increasingly becomes a disadvantage as she rises in her occupational status however it works fine for entry-level and non-supervisory positions. For men, attractiveness seems to work fine at all levels (Heilman&Saruwatari, 1979).

Men First Please

Men seem to be treated better in customer service situations. They receive friendlier service, and are served first 61% when a male customer and female customer approach a clerk at the same time. Also, a male's chance for getting quicker service improved when they dressed up, yet it had no effect for women. (Rafaeli, 1988; Stead &Zinkhan, 1986).


Men and women apply different strategies for spatial tasks. For example, while driving men try to map out the entire area visually while women use the assistance of landmarks (Gaulin, 1992).

Dominance & Affiliation

Men show more dominant behavior such as side-to-side head shaking, anger and disgust expressions, and closed postures while women display more affiliative body movement such as laughing, smiling, and open body postures (Algoe et al., 2000; Hess et al., 2005).

You Walk Like a Girl

More body motion while walking is associated with femininity (Johnson &Tassinary, 2005 & 2007).

Stop Touching Yourself!

Women tend to engage in more self-touching than men. Self-touching can be perceived as flirtatious yet also is associated with anxiety and stress. (Hall, 1984; Grammer et al., 2000).

Finally, The King/Queen is...

Context? Yes, although there are many studies exploring the differences between men and women in regards to nonverbal communication, the context of the situation plays a very critical role. A comprehensive review of nonverbal communication research exists (and by comprehensive I mean a review of 275 studies involving 14,000 situations and 10,000 participants) where the researchers reviewed different nonverbal cues in regards to power/status roles (Hall, Smith, & Smith LeBeau, 2005).

The research concluded that cues performed by women including closer distances and open gestures are associated with being more, not less, powerful. The researchers are quick to caution that the context and motivations of the person are important and need to be considered when drawing to conclusions in contrast to when they are based solely on gender.

Finally, when considering nonverbal communication including the differences between men and women, remember, very rarely is anything exact. As this involves human interaction, there are many variables that must be considered. Although a certain conclusion might be demonstrated in a study, remembering the results are rarely 100% in favor of something while also remembering to consider the context of the study and applying it to your setting will allow you to understand and utilize nonverbal communication more effectively.

* I am indebted to the following books that contain references and overviews of each of the above research studies and provided the foundation for this article: Nonverbal Communication in Human Interaction by Knapp & Hall; Nonverbal Communication Forms and Functions by Andersen; Nonverbal Communication In Everyday Life by Remland; and Nonverbal Communication by Burgoon, Guerrero & Floyd.