Module Five: Gender Differences

Not all body language is universal. There are differences in the way that men and women communicate. Body language is often confused between genders. In order to prevent miscommunications, it is important to understand the signals that are common to most people as well as the different signals that men and women communicate with their body language.




Facial Expressions

Facial expressions will be explored in a separate module. Men and women share the universal facial expressions, but there are some differences in use and perception. For example, women typically tend to smile more often than men. Women frequently smile to be polite or fulfill cultural expectations. The meanings behind smiles are often misinterpreted. Additionally, people judge the same facial expressions on men and women differently. Women, for example, were thought to be angrier and less happy than men, according to a study published by the American Psychological Association, even though they all had the same facial expressions.


Personal Distances

Personal space and personal distance change with each individual. Everyone has his or her own idea of personal distance, which is the comfortable distance that someone wishes to keep from another person. Gender, however, often affects one’s sense of personal distance.

Men: Men generally take more space than women, and they employ larger personal distances. Men are less likely to stand close to each other, even when they are all friends. Additionally, they create larger buffer zones using items such as coats, cups, papers, etc. Men usually expect their buffer zones to be respected and do not respond well to someone invading their personal space.

Women: Women generally employ smaller personal distances with each other or with male friends. They tend to increase personal distance with strange men. Women also create buffer zones, but they are typically smaller than male buffer zones. Women are more likely to draw back when their zones are invaded, and female buffer zones are not always respected. People are more likely to move a woman’s purse than a man’s coat.


Female Body Language

There are some subtle differences to note when interpreting female body language. Culture plays a role in what is considered appropriate body language. Female body language changes over time, and it is not universal to all women. There are, however, some basic actions that many women have in common.

Body Language:

  • Body Position and posture: Many women use closed body language. This may stem from a cultural convention to appear smaller. Women, however, will straighten their posture to look more attractive.
  • Leaning: Women will lean forward when they are interested in something or someone. They lean away when displeased or uncomfortable.
  • Smiling: We have already mentioned that women are more likely to smile. While it is often a friendly gesture, it is a probably a polite gesture when the eyes are not engaged.
  • Eye contact: Eye contact indicates interest (either in what is said or the individual). Dilated pupils are another sign of interest.
  • Mirroring: Women often mirror, or copy, the actions of each other. They will occasionally mirror men.
  • Legs and feet: The legs and feet typically point in the direction of a woman’s interest. This includes romantic interest.
  • Touching: Women are more likely to touch each other than men are.
  • Tapping: Tapping or fidgeting is a sign that a woman is annoyed or uncomfortable.


Male Body Language

Male body language is not universal to all men. There are, however, certain aspects of body language that are common to many men. Male body language is often seen as more aggressive and dominating. Women are sometimes encouraged to adapt male body language in the workplace.

Body Language:

  • Stance: Men often choose wide stances to increase their size. Spread legs and a straight back, both sitting and standing, indicates confidence. Closed body language does not.
  • Eye contact: Men will make eye contact, but eye contact can be seen as a dominating or hostile act when it lasts too long. Occasional eye aversion is normal. Like women, pupils dilate with interest.
  • Mirroring: Men do not typically mirror each other. They often mirror women to show their interest.
  • Legs and feet: Like women, the legs and feet typically point in the direction of a man’s interest. This includes romantic interest.
  • Smiling: Men do not smile as often as women in social settings; their facial expressions are often reserved. They do, however, occasionally use forced smiles. Men often smile when happy or to engage someone’s interest.
  • Hands: Men are more likely to fidget than women. This is not necessarily a sign of insecurity or boredom, just a way to use energy.


Case Study

Tom was attracted to his coworker Lisa. Lisa always smiled when she saw him come in. She even laughed at his jokes. Tom would spend time in her cubicle, and she never told him to leave. She simply continued working, leaning toward her computer while he talked to her back. Tom was certain that Lisa would go out with him, and one day he asked her. To his surprise, Lisa was annoyed by his request. She told him that she did nothing to encourage his attention and that she would file a harassment report if he asked her out again.