Common Differences and Strategies among Genders

Communication is a large part of getting along with the opposite sex.  Communication can be either verbal or nonverbal.  Nonverbal communication, according to Dr. Susan Sherwood, (2010), “is more immediate but more ambiguous than verbal communication”.  Men and women differ significantly in their ability to use nonverbal communication, their skill in interpreting it and their means of signaling the meaning.  It is important to understand gender differences in nonverbal communication when dealing with the opposite sex.   According to John Gray, author of the best seller, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, “men and women communicate differently because men want to transmit information and solve specific problems, while women communicate to express feelings and achieve emotional intimacy” (pg. 2).  This essay will examine the types of communication, the common miscommunications among genders, and some effective strategies used to improve communications between men and women.

Women tend to use nonverbal communication more than men.  Women make more eye contact during communication than men.  They tend to use communication to establish an emotional connection with people, as well judge the sincerity of that person.  Women also rely more on facial expressions and hand gestures to convey their meaning or intensity of their feelings.   Since men associate touching with sexual intentions, and women associate touching as an expression of friendship or sympathy, heterosexual men abstain from touching other men during a conversation (Sherwood, 2010).

Young girls’ friendships focus on making a connection.  They share secrets, relate experiences, reveal problems; talk is essential.  Young boys, on the other hand, take a different approach to friendship.  Their buddy groups tend to be larger and focus more on activities rather than conversation.  These differences lead to a dissimilar communication styles in adulthood.  Women still communicate through dialogue and men remain action oriented, to achieve something (Sherwood, 2010).  Research indicates these are the general, even common, tendencies of men and women, though not absolute.  There are men who want to chat about their feelings and women who choose not to talk so much.

Nonverbal communication involves varying levels of body expression.  For women, animated faces, hands in motion and for men, more conservative facial movements and body contact.  However, when it comes to sitting styles, men are unreserved.  Sprawling, stretching, spreading out is usually their style, while women tend to draw in, keeping arms and legs close to their bodies (Sherwood, 2010).  Women are focused on providing attention and encouraging participation, whereas the goal for men, depends upon the task.  For instance, women will ask many questions to get their point across.  Their questions are designed to present opposition or gather data.  Men’s contribution to an argument is often simple and direct.  They are so straightforward, men might not realize that a conflict is occurring (Sherwood, 2010).  A sample dialogue regarding a place to eat:

Woman: “Why do we have to eat here?”

Man: “It’s convenient.”

Woman:  “Are there any quieter restaurants nearby?”

Man:  “Not close by.”

Woman: “I wonder if this place has been inspected lately.”

Man:  “Let’s go in.”

When their communication styles are disagreeing, the impact can be surprising.  Men are concerned with being right.  They dislike questions and are less concerned about anyone’s feelings.  Men will close down emotionally.  This lack of compassion upsets women.  They become increasingly suspicious and wary (Whitworth, 2007).

After the argument, one or both may apologize.  Apologies are handled differently between men and women.  Women use apologies to try to create or maintain connections.  Men are more concerned about what an apology might do:  lower them to a subordinate position (Sherwood, 2010).  If a man fears losing power and avoids an apology, a woman may consider this insensitive behavior and can prolong negative feelings.  And so once again, gender variations are making things difficult.

Men are more likely to volunteer evaluations instead of hand out compliments, whereas, women learn from an early age to give out compliments.  It is a way to offer affirmation and inclusion.  Men will not seek out compliments because they want to avoid being critiqued themselves (Tannen, 2010).  If a woman asks a question with the hope of being praised or flattered, a man may see it as a way to offer advice.  This automatically shifts them to a higher position, with the woman having a lower status (Tannen, 2010).

Problem solving among the genders is also different.  For instance, the car has died once again.  It’s time to buy a new car.  He wants to buy a slightly used car because they depreciate so quickly.  She wants to ask her friends how they like their cars.  He wants to look at car reviews on line.  She is worried about the car payment.  He offers to go right now to the dealership.  She goes into a story about how she bought her first car.  He decides he wants a hybrid (Tannen, 2010).  This is not problem solving at its best but is common.  Men and women approach analytical discussions differently.  Men tend to focus on the facts and seek immediate solutions (action oriented) whereas women tend to talk about the problem, share their feelings and find common experiences (Torppa, 2010).

Men and women have different ways of trying to get what they want, which may make it difficult to come to an agreement.  Women, again, typically are in conversation mode, they ask questions.  Men can interpret this approach as manipulation.  They make statements rather than suggestions.  They want their way directly and quickly.  If that doesn’t work, they exit the discussion, either angry or simply less passionate about the subject (Tannen, 2010).   Men then become resentful thinking women are trying to trick them.  If men don’t participate in the negotiations, women feel slighted, easily turning the discussion into an argument (Tannen, 2010).

Relationships bring out life’s greatest satisfaction, according to Ivy and Backlund, (2008).  Relationships bring people their highest highs and their lowest lows.  Relationship initiation is based on choice, choosing and being chosen.  Research shows people choose others of the opposite sex by attraction, physical appearance, the proximity to either where they live go to school or work.  How and where the initial contact takes place, what the first conversations are about, as well as flirting, all play a large part in courtships.  Once the relationship starts to blossom, women will self-disclose, talk about past relationships, their families, their friends, their likes and dislikes.  They are looking for someone who has similar interests, morals, and values.   The most basic of these would be familiarity (Ivy & Backlund, 2008).

There are three strategies people use to reduce uncertainty, all are based on information.  The first strategy is passive strategy.  This is where observing people without them knowing about it.  The second strategy is called active strategy.  This requires more action than observation and can involve a third party, such as a friend or family member, in order to gather information.  The third strategy is called interactive strategy.  This involves asking the perspective boyfriend or girlfriend direct questions or engaging them in a conversation.  This can be done one on one or in a group setting.  This method seems to be the best method of gathering information as it comes directly from the source (Ivy & Backlund, 2008).

Because this writer has not observed much in miscommunications among genders, she would like to use a movie, written by Nora Ephron, When Harry Met Sally (1989) and some of the famous scenes.  Harry and Sally are two people who met after graduation from college and drove 18 hours to New York together.  During the course of their relationship, they started out as acquaintances, moved to friendship and ultimately fell in love within a span of 12 years and 3 months.

This conversation was held on the drive to New York.  Harry came on to Sally even though he was dating her friend.  This communication tells the genders they cannot be friends because men will always want to have sex with their women friends.  Prior to this movie, men may have thought this but never vocalized it to their female friends.  This movie really got the genders thinking about their men and women friends.

Harry Burns: You realize of course that we could never be friends.

Sally Albright: Why not?

Harry Burns: What I’m saying is – and this is not a come-on in any way, shape or form – is that men and women can’t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way.

Sally Albright: That’s not true. I have a number of men friends and there is no sex involved.

Harry Burns: No you don’t.

Sally Albright: Yes I do.

Harry Burns: No you don’t.

Sally Albright: Yes I do.

Harry Burns: You only think you do.

Sally Albright: You say I’m having sex with these men without my knowledge?

Harry Burns: No, what I’m saying is they all WANT to have sex with you.

Sally Albright: They do not.

Harry Burns: Do too.

Sally Albright: They do not.

Harry Burns: Do too.

Sally Albright: How do you know?

Harry Burns: Because no man can be friends with a woman that he finds attractive. He always wants to have sex with her.

Sally Albright: So, you’re saying that a man can be friends with a woman he finds unattractive?

Harry Burns: No. You pretty much want to nail ’em too.

Sally Albright: What if THEY don’t want to have sex with YOU?

Harry Burns: Doesn’t matter because the sex thing is already out there so the friendship is ultimately doomed and that is the end of the story.

Sally Albright: Well, I guess we’re not going to be friends then.

Harry Burns: I guess not.

Sally Albright: That’s too bad. You were the only person I knew in New York (imbd, 1989).

In this scene Harry is telling Sally that Ingrid Bergman in the movie Casablanca is a low maintenance woman and Sally wants to know which one Harry thinks she is.  Sally sees herself as low maintenance, but Harry sees her as high maintenance because she knows what she wants and lets people know she will not settle for anything less.

Harry Burns: There are two kinds of women: high maintenance and low maintenance.

Sally Albright: Which one am I?

Harry Burns: You’re the worst kind; you’re high maintenance but you think you’re low maintenance.

Sally Albright: I don’t see that.

Harry Burns: You don’t see that? Waiter, I’ll begin with a house salad, but I don’t want the regular dressing. I’ll have the balsamic vinegar and oil, but on the side. And then the salmon with the mustard sauce, but I want the mustard sauce on the side. “On the side” is a very big thing for you.

Sally Albright: Well, I just want it the way I want it.

Harry Burns: I know; high maintenance.

Marie: All I’m saying is that somewhere out there is the man you are supposed to marry. And if you don’t get him first, somebody else will, and you’ll have to spend the rest of your life knowing that somebody else is married to your husband (imbd, 1989).

This is one of the many classic lines in the movie.  When Sally and her boyfriend breakup after spending five years in a relationship, she is telling her girlfriends she is over him.  Marie says she is now ready to start dating again.   What Marie is trying to communicate to Sally is that she should date any man out there that is available because her biological clock is ticking. If she doesn’t hurry up, someone else will get him.


Sally, wanting to be the strong, independent woman Harry sees her as has just heard from her old boyfriend Joe.  He tells her he is getting married.  Sally is distraught and calls Harry up to come and comfort her.  Harry tries to cheer Sally up because he is her friend and doesn’t want her to be upset.

Sally: He just met her… She’s supposed to be his transitional person, she’s not supposed to be the ONE. All this time I thought he didn’t want to get married. But, the truth is, he didn’t want to marry me. He didn’t love me.

Harry: If you could take him back now, would you?

Sally: No. But why didn’t he want to marry me? What’s the matter with me?

Harry: Nothing.

Sally: I’m difficult.

Harry: You’re challenging.

Sally: I’m too structured, I’m completely closed off.

Harry: But in a good way.

Sally: No, no, no, I drove him away. AND, I’m gonna be forty.

Harry: When?

Sally: Someday.

Harry: In eight years.

Sally: But it’s there. It’s just sitting there, like some big dead end. And it’s not the same for men. Charlie Chaplin had kids when he was 73.

Harry: Yeah, but he was too old to pick them up (imbd, 1989).

That evening Harry and Sally get together for the first time sexually.  Harry ends up treating Sally the exact same way he treats his casual dates.  Sally is hurt by this and they stop being friends.

Marie and her boyfriend are getting married.  Sally is the maid of honor for Marie and Harry is the best man.  Marie is trying on her wedding dress and Sally, wanting to know what is going on with Harry, asks her if he is bringing anyone to the wedding.

Sally Albright: Is Harry bringing anybody to the wedding?

Marie: I don’t think so.

Sally Albright: Is he seeing anybody?

Marie: He was seeing this anthropologist, but…

Sally Albright: What’s she look like?

Marie: Thin. Pretty. Big tits. Your basic nightmare.  (Imbd, 1989).

In all these scenarios the basic ineffective miscommunication tool used would be silence, ego, and unsympathetic, stereotypical responses from both men and women.

Communication between the genders can be verbal or nonverbal.  Women tend to read nonverbal signals better than men.  Women tend to use communication to establish an emotional connection with people, as well judge the sincerity of that person; whereas, men want to transmit information and solve specific problems.  When their communication styles are disagreeing, the women will ask questions and men will think they are being manipulative.  However the genders communicate, the end result of finding a lasting partner comes down to the simple fact, everyone is looking for someone who has similar interests and morals.


Booher, Diane. “Gender Negotiation Communication Style Differences: Women.”

Imbd, When Harry Met Sally, 1989.  Retrieved from:

Ivy, D.K., Backlund, P., (2008). GenderSpeak. Personal Effectiveness in Gender Communication, Fourth Edition Chapter 4: Choosing and Using Gendered Language

NOVA. “Dances with Bees.” December 1999.

Rosetti, Paolo. “Gender Differences in Email Communication.” The Internet TESL Journal. Vol. 4, No. 7. July 1998.

Roter, Debra, Hall, Judith H. & Aoki, Yutaki. “Physician Gender Effects in Medical Communication.” The Journal of the American Medical Association. Vol. 288, No. 6. August 14, 2002.

Sherwood, S. 2010. Discovery. Gender and Sexuality. 10 ways men and women communicate differently.  Retrieved from:

Tannen, Deborah. “That’s Not What I Meant.” Ballantine Books. 1986.

Tannen, Deborah. “The Power of Talk: Who Gets Heard and Why.” Harvard Business Review. September-October 1995.

Tannen, Deborah. “Who Does the Talking Here?” The Washington Post. Sunday, July 15, 2007.

Torppa, Cynthia Burggraf. “Gender Issues: Communication Differences in Interpersonal Relationships.” The Ohio State University Extension. 2010

Whitworth, Damian. “Why Men and Women Argue Differently.” The Times. October 30, 2007.

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