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Reading Nonverbal Cues: Power and Gender

Women are more skilled than men at deciphering nonverbal messages

Women are more skilled than men at deciphering nonverbal messages (Nelson, 2004, p. 24). The generalization that women are more intuitive than men may relate to women hearing the verbal and seeing the nonverbal messages. Women interpret both message channels, verbal and nonverbal, when assigning meaning to the message as a whole. Men tend to focus on the words or the content only of the messages they hear. Some of the reasoning for this is that those with lower status generally have to be adept at reading messages from every channel to ensure that they get the full message. When a person has low status, he or she wants to get as much information as possible from the high-status person in order to respond to them appropriately. In U.S. culture, people of high status, usually men or white people, do not need to pay attention to all message channels from a subordinate or lower-status person; it’s enough for them to hear the words as the sole message. The group that has the power does not need to be skilled at reading or decoding the nonverbal messages of those with less power. However, for those with less power, reading nonverbal cues increases their survival and ability to succeed (Wood, 2004, p. 142). Women are more clued in than men to people’s nonverbal gestures and feelings, and women use those messages to interpret the message as a whole.

Taken from: The Gender Communication Handbook: Conquering Conversational Collisions Between Men and Women Audrey Nelson PhD (co-author)

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