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Men, Power and Nonverbal Cues

Men symbolize their authority through nonverbal cues.

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Men are the champions of power, which has been described as the ability to manage or direct one’s environment. Men are socialized to be in control, to have and exercise authority. Genetically, they are physically larger and more aggressive. In fact, both women and men overwhelmingly believe that men should be the more dominant gender. Today males (and white males, at that) still hold the majority of “power” positions (CEOs, company or board presidents) at Fortune 500 companies. A man must “earn his stripes” by fiercely competing and constantly proving himself. Masculinity is far more entrenched in our society than femininity. A girl can engage in cross-gender behavior—she can become a tomboy without many repercussions—but a boy perceived as a sissy is taunted and rejected.

Moreover, men’s nonverbal behaviors command attention and exude power. Men know how to direct and control their nonverbals. If they are unrestrained (that is, too expressive), not only do they give away their power, but they may also be denigrated. Here’s how one man framed the problem during a corporate training session: “When I got my bonus and raise, I wanted to run home and jump up and down and squeal, ‘Guess what just happened to me!’ just like my girlfriend did when she got promoted. But I couldn’t. Men just can’t be animated or show excitement or joy the way women can.”

Men symbolize their authority through nonverbal cues. Whereas a woman is expected to be and act small, a man’s man should be large—the taller the better—and loud. He takes up lots of space, interrupts during conversations, makes expansive gestures, initiates touch, commands a bigger office, and pilots a more powerful car. At the same time, he exerts control over his facial expressions (called masking) and tone of voice, using little or no inflection (this is analogous to a masked facial expression) and a lower pitch associated with authority. Everything nonverbal about a man must communicate control and power.