The way in which a particular group of people communicates is indicative of many things about them and may completely dictate how it is possible to relate to them. Differences in communication may be very slight, but these differences may have a large effect on whether or not a person is approachable, and what one may say to them. Many people observe that men and women communicate differently, and that they express different things about themselves when they do communicate. It is not always easy to see exactly what this difference is however, or what it means in terms of being able to relate to either a man or a woman about a particular subject. This paper will argue that one of the main differences in communication between men and women comes from the way in which the different groups tend to use physical contact in communication. By describing how the use of physical contact differs in both cases, it will also show how this difference can be seen to reflect deeper tendencies in terms of how both groups relate to language and physical contact.
Physical contact is clearly an important part of communication. We hug our parents, our friends and our partners and we often shakes hands with relative strangers. We pat people on the back if we wish to attract their attention in a busy and some times we people place their hand of another’s knee in order to express anything from physical attraction to fear and insecurity. While both men and women use physical contact in the way described, I would argue that, generally speaking, there is a significant difference between the specific way in which such contact is used and what it communicates.
It is a common gesture for a man to slap another man on the back, or to hug him firmly but quickly. When he does this, the man communicates his affection for his friend or his relative and the communication can often lead to a friendly an informal conversation. Such contact, however, is usually quick. Men do not tend to touch a protracted manner, rather they express their affection in order to facilitate the start of a conversation. It is usually not the case that a man will continue to touch a conversation partner unless they are comforting them or unless they are in relationship. In short, men tend to use physical contact to facilitate conversation and express affection, but this expression is clear and quick, as if the declaration of friendship involved is enough and need not be repeated.
I would argue that this can be contrasted to the way in which women tend to use physical touch in communication. It is just as common for a woman to initiate a conversation with a hug or a tap on the shoulder as it is for a man to do so, however women do not tend to feel the same pressure to cease contact quickly. In my experience, hugs from female friends or relatives tend to last for a few seconds longer and to be softer. There is an experience of closeness in the embrace which is generally not present in hugs or hand shakes from male friends. Rather than simply initiating the conversation and moving on, friendly physical contact with female friends can often be an integral part of an entire conversation in its own right.
Often female friends of mine may hold the hands of people they are talking to in order to make a point, and may continue to do so once the point has been made, as they feel no instant need to cease contact. It is also the case that female friends are more likely to hug spontaneously during a conversation. Unlike male friends for whom such a hug generally requires a definite purpose or could only occur definite and usually climactic point in a conversation, with female friends there tends to be more of an awareness of relaxing nature of physical contact. Such contact often repeats itself throughout a conversation. In contrast to physical contact with male friends, it is not restricted to the start or the end of encounters. Indeed, it seems that for my female friends, physical contact, even if only very slight, tends to be an important mode of communication in its own right. It is not something that can be fully separated from other forms of communication, or that simply exists at the start or at the end of a meeting. It can express affections which aren’t expressed in words, as well as accentuating particular meanings. This accentuation is simply instrumental, however, rather I would argue that subtle physical is occasionally as complex and, almost, as independent as linguistic communication. This is something which is almost never the case in interactions with male friends or relatives.
In conclusion, therefore, one of the primary differences between the way in which women and men communicate lies in the differing ways in which this communication makes use of physical contact. While men tend to use physical contact to facilitate communication or to express affection at the start and end of a meeting, this contact rarely becomes a language in its own right. In contrast to this, women tend to be more comfortable using physical touch as a means of communication and do not instrumentalize it in the same way. This relative freedom with regard to physical contact tends to be a major difference between women and men in terms of how they communicate.