Male-Female Interactions: Don’t Get Your Signals Crossed

Become more aware of your verbal and nonverbal communication.

Posted Nov 17, 2015

 Alex Brylov/BigStockPhoto
Source: Alex Brylov/BigStockPhoto

In any relationship the interaction between individuals is carried out through both words and actions.  It is not only what is said but also the way it is said that is interpreted.  And in some cases, nonverbal signals speak louder in relationships than the actual words themselves. 

It is important, therefore, for both parties in a friendship to be aware of the signals they are sending out, both verbal and nonverbal.  It does no good for friends to say they want their relationship to remain platonic while they mindlessly engage in a high degree of physical touching and flirting.  The active signals contradict and supplant the verbal message.  The signals we send within a friendship must be consistent.  If they are mixed, confusion can enter the friendship.  

Wherever men and women interact, confusion seems to be a recurring theme.  The basic differences in our natures, needs, and motivations require us to take special care in all our male-female interactions, whether with acquaintances, coworkers, friends or spouses.  Clarity of intentions should always be present.  Even in the best circumstances, however, relational waters can get muddy in a hurry.  Confusion can intrude unexpectedly, even when we think we’re crystal clear about our own intentions in the friendship.

People tend to see in others and hear from others what they themselves want to see and hear.  For example, one person may tell a friend about a concert she plans to attend.  Her friend does not want to put down her choice of music, so he makes polite conversation about the concert, even though he has no interest in it at all.  Seeing her friend’s feigned interest, the woman rushes out and busy two convert tickets so they can go together.  Now her friend has a dilemma.  Does he go to a concert he won’t like, or tell the truth and risk hurting a friend?  It’s a simplistic example, perhaps, but such is the potential for confusion between friends. 

Messages often get tangled between men and women.  Not only do our signals in such friendships need to be very clear but we need to recognize that men and women will often interpret signals differently.  A woman can hug another woman who is hurting without sending any kind of sexual signal.  But if a woman hugs a man who is hurting, he may be apt to interpret that hug sexually. 

A man who listens intently to another man’s woes is seen simply as a good friend, with no sexual complexity inferred.  A man who listens to a woman tell her troubles may be viewed by the woman as someone who is attracted to her.  Note that a physical act by a woman often may be interpreted by a man as sexual attraction, while an act of emotional connection may be interpreted by a woman as sexual attraction.  The potential for confusion between men and women is rife, so our signals to one another must be exceedingly clear. 

Trouble is on tap if either friend signals a willingness to cross the boundary into sexual intimacy.  This boundary need not be purely physical.  It is usually breached first on an emotional, verbal level.  So be careful about the signals you send. 

Authored by Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE. Pioneering whole-person care nearly 30 years ago, Dr. Jantz has dedicated his life’s work to creating possibilities for others, and helping people change their lives for good. The Center • A Place of HOPE, located on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety and others.