In the process of giving business presentations in 34 countries, I’ve noticed many generalizations about male and female body language seem to be standard around the world. Of course, I also realize that for any set of generalizations, there are many individual exceptions.
As a leader, it’s important to consider my observations in the context of how they could impact your workplace dealings with colleagues and customers.
Here are thirteen body language differences to compare with your own observations:
- To a woman, good listening skills include making eye contact and reacting visually to the speaker. To a man, listening can take place with a minimum of eye contact and almost no nonverbal feedback. (Women often cite a lack of eye contact as evidence that her male boss “doesn’t value my input.”)
- Men are more comfortable when approached from the side. Women prefer approaches from the front. Likewise, two men speaking will angle their bodies slightly, while two women will stand in a more squared up position, a stance that most men perceive as confrontational.
- When a man nods, it most often means he agrees. When a woman nods, she may be agreeing or simply encouraging the speaker to continue.
- Female superiority in reading nonverbal signals during business meetings allows women to accurately assess coalitions and alliances just by tracking changes in expressions and who is making eye contact with whom at certain critical points.
- Male body language is more likely to emphasize stature, authority, and confidence – the nonverbal signals of using height and space that are most often associated with displaying “leadership presence.” Men also send signals of indifference, disagreement, or arrogance more often than women do.
- In business meetings and negotiations, men talk more than women and interrupt more frequently.
- Female body language is typically warmer and empathetic with smiles, head tilts, nods, and forward leans.
- While men typically take up space, women often stand or sit in ways that make them look smaller — bringing their arms close to their bodies, rounding their shoulders, and crossing their legs. These condensed body postures send signals of vulnerability and insecurity.
- Because they access the full message (words and body language), women are better at watching and listening for reactions. This allows them to gauge if they are being understood, and to adjust accordingly.
- Women use approximately five tones when speaking, and their voices rise under stress – so they sound more emotional. Men not only have a deeper vocal range; they use only approximately three tones.
- When a woman can’t read the emotional reaction of the person she’s talking to, it makes her anxious. Men’s ability to mask their facial expressions causes uneasiness in women, who often perceive this as negative feedback.
- Men’s discomfort in dealing with emotion leads them to believe that they need to supply a solution, and they may fail to understand that sometimes people just need to be heard.
- Men who don’t know each other well tend to keep a greater distance between themselves than women who have just met. This difference in interpersonal distance as determined by gender is even true in the metaverse, where many of the unconscious “rules” that govern personal space in the physical world can also be seen.
Male or female, the trick is to know when your body language is helping or hurting your effectiveness in a business interaction – and to be able to adjust as needed. Awareness of the impact of your body language and an expanded repertoire of nonverbal communication behaviors, will give you that leadership advantage.
Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D., is an international keynote speaker and leadership presence coach. She’s the author of “The Silent Language of Leaders: How Body Language Can Help – or Hurt How You Lead” and STAND OUT: How to Build Your Leadership Presence.” Carol’s also the creator of LinkedInLearning’s best-selling video series: “Body Language for Leaders.”