Gender-Based Communication Styles Gender-Based Differences in Interpersonal Term Paper

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Gender-Based Communication Styles


This project consists of an observational study intended to identify and compare the differences in social interaction styles between the genders. The study endeavored to compare the various components of interpersonal communication, such as body language, eye contact and physical gestures among various subjects observed in a university courtyard frequented by students as well as by university instructors and visitors.

The experimenter monitored the ways men and women differ in communication styles. In order to minimize extraneous factors (such as larger group dynamics or sexual interest) that lie beyond the scope of this project, the experimenter observed only one-on-one interactions between groups of two same-gender subjects.

The background of the study was chosen because it provided the opportunity to observe numerous groups engaged in similar interactions in a relatively short period of time, in addition to several different seating options including a wall suitable for sitting, wide, gradually sloping outdoor staircases and patio-type lunch tables.

This feature, in particular, suited the study by virtue of the rules of "self- service" posted conspicuously. The patio-type lunch tables are affixed to a portion of the outdoor patio, but the chairs are assembled in neat stacks near the entrances and exit areas, where posted signs request that patrons deposit their refuse appropriately and return their own chairs to the nearest stacking area. This element provided the opportunity to observe a specific aspect of gender-based communication styles which would not have revealed itself but for this unique arrangement.


At the outset, it was expected that certain specific differences would be relatively apparent. General experience and familiarity with the habits and comparative predilections of men and women accounted for the expectation that women would position themselves closer to each other and make greater use of hand gestures that involved physical contact between them.

Conversely, men were expected to maintain greater distance between themselves and not to make physical contact with each other at all, except upon greeting and bidding each other farewell, perhaps with traditional handshakes where they parted company at the conclusion of their conversation.

Relative Spatial Orientation and Body Language: 1/2

It became immediately obvious that the genders seem to prefer entirely different relative spatial orientation when presented with the opportunity -- in this case, necessity -- of choosing their own seating arrangements. Male subjects seated on a courtyard wall face each other directly relatively rarely, preferring to sit next to each other, facing the same direction. Much of their conversation takes place while either the speaker or the listener, or both are looking straight ahead rather than at each other. Female subjects rarely face the same direction, preferring to face each other directly. Often they straddled the wall and faced each other throughout the entire conversation. Where females sat sideways, drawing a single leg up onto the wall, they still faced each other much of the time, even if they also looked around the surroundings periodically. Subjects displayed very similar patterns seated on courtyard stairs, with males tending to sit facing in the same direction and females drawing a leg up to sit sideways as well as cross-legged, facing each other directly.

This pattern was even more obvious where subjects took advantage of the availability of the chairs and had to arrange them in relation to their companions.

Men seemed almost to place their chairs approximately three feet away from each other, turning them 45 degrees toward each other so that they faced a right angle relative to each other, seemingly automatically, or by "instinct." Females almost always positioned their chairs much closer to each other and facing each other directly. As often as not, their extremities crossed into the other's immediate personal space or they straddled each other's legs at the ankle. Men virtually never sat close enough to share personal space in this manner.

The only apparent exception to the observation pertaining to directional orientation involved table seating: where male subjects opted to sit at a table, they generally faced each other in the same manner as female subjects. Nevertheless, male subjects still tended to sit farther back in their respective chairs and to monitor the goings on nearby whereas female subjects tended to sit closer to the table (and therefore, to each other) and to clasp their (own) hands or lay their elbows on the table so as to face each other directly most of the time.

Eye Contact:

The patterns of eye contact that were observed revealed gender differences that closely mirrored the findings of spatial orientation styles. More often than not, females maintained direct aye contact with each other during much of their conversation. By contrast, males rarely maintained eye contact or even looked in the other's direction, preferring to talk either while facing the same direction or away from each other at an obtuse angle. Even though they turned toward their companions periodically, males tended to take turns facing their partners, instead of maintaining direct eye contact simultaneously.

It appeared that male subjects maintained a form of synchronicity by looking at the same features and watching the same goings on within their environment, instead of looking at each other directly. By comparison, female subjects appeared much less aware of their environment, seeming to take visual notice of a much smaller portion of people and activities around them than male subjects.

Conversational Control Sharing:

Female subjects appeared to share the role of speaker and listener much more equally than males. Females seemed to take roughly equal turns speaking for similar lengths of time, while individual males often adopted more of a speaking or listening role within the conversation. In this regard, it was often apparent that the speaker was attempting to advise, or teach, or solve an issue raised by the listener. Where this feature was observed between female subjects, the speaker tended to monopolize the conversation while the listener merely interjected with apparent questions and responded by nodding periodically. Even where the apparent mentoring relationship was evident between female subjects, they exchanged roles more equitably, nevertheless, and listened more attentively to each other than male subjects in the listening role.

Whereas males often exchanged roles by interrupting each other, women seemed to do so comparatively rarely, and much more apologetically. Female listeners virtually always seemed to allow the speaker to finish her statements in comparison to males, especially in apparent mentoring exchanges when the protege spoke.

Physical Gestures:

In addition to sitting closely enough to share some of each other's personal space or even to maintain incidental contact throughout much of their interaction, female subjects punctuated their conversation with physical gestures whereby they touched each other's leg while making a point. Female subjects occasionally engaged in apparent mutual grooming gestures such as reaching out to brush their companion's hair from her face. Males never initiated these types of gestures.

In comparison to females, male subjects employed hand gesticulation much more often in conjunction with speaking, whereas females often sat with their hands clasped or on their own laps. Males sometimes made eye contact while using hand gestures simultaneously, but just as often, they spoke while seeming to watch their own hands, instead of maintaining direct eye contact with their companions.

One of the most striking differences related to styles of bidding each other farewell upon parting company. Male subjects almost always engaged in some characteristic form of traditional handshake, whereas females very often exchanged hugs prior to their departure. Even where female subjects did not initiate farewell hugs, more often than not, they took hold of each other's hands briefly, but in what appeared to be a much warmer fashion than the more business-like handshake preferred by make subjects.


The observations of interpersonal communication styles revealed differences between men and women that were very consistent with…[continue]

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