Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Why Women Send More Double Messages Than Men

Women seem to send more double messages than men

The term “double messages” refers to an individual’s message where the verbal and nonverbal meanings contradict each other. Based on research in the communication field, women seem to send more double messages than men. The incongruence in the messages sent generally impacts women by lowering their perceived credibility. When the boss yells at his subordinate, Shirley, and she smiles back, what is the message she’s sending? It’s a mixed message. When Mary says his joke was awful, but laughs anyway, what does she really mean? Was the joke bad or good? If a woman expresses her disappointment to her man colleague when he says it’s his fault the project is delayed for two weeks, and then she smiles at him, what is he to understand? He may think, “Maybe the job delay isn’t that bad after all.” More times than not the men may walk away think she doesn’t know what she wants or what to do next, thus lowering her credibility in their eyes.

Saving face may be a reason for some of women’s double messages. For example if a woman is in an embarrassing situation, she may smile as if to say she’s alright even though she’s upset with what just happened. If she expresses her anger at her employee, she may want to alleviate the other person’s embarrassment or discomfort and smile as if to say, “I know you can do better.” She may be using her smile to soften the blow or the severity of her words. Instead it negates the seriousness of her message and impacts her work image. “Betty’s so happy. She smiles all the time. She never gets mad at anyone.” But can happy Betty be strict and stern, managing a team to meet a critical deadline? It is suggested that men and women be conscious of their nonverbal messages and work to keep their verbal and nonverbal messages congruent.