Thursday, June 11, 2015
(Editor's note: This post, from our Speaking Science series, looked at the role of nods. To add to the collection of insights below, I'll add one more from Celia Delaney, who chaired the 2014 UK Speechwriters Guild conference: When she delivers a funny line, she gives a little nod afterward, to indicate to the audience that they can and should laugh. And it works.)
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: men and women communicate differently.
Are you nodding your head yes at this little nugget of truth? Are you nodding it vigorously and frequently? Several studies show that women engaged in conversation tend to nod more often and with more emphasis than men. What’s more, men and women both seem to pick up on this rhythm, and nod more frequently when talking to a woman than they do when chatting with a man.
What’s really going on here? Does a man feel like he has to act more like a woman when he speaks with one? Do women think it’s all right to be a “yes” woman among their own, but hold their heads in check when speaking with a man?
The answer has less to do with social manners and more to do with simple motion, say researchers at the University of Virginia’s Human Dynamics Lab: people adjust their nodding to match the head movements of their conversational partners, no matter who they are.
But the researchers didn’t do anything to change the head movements of the video speakers, and they discovered that movements—not appearance--seemed to make all the difference .If a video speaker was a head-nodding woman, but her computerized image looked like a man, the lab students nodded right along with her.
"We found that people simply adapt to each other's head movements and facial expressions, regardless of the apparent sex of the person they are talking to," said Boker. “This is important because it indicates that how you appear is less important than how you move, when it comes to what other people feel when they speak with you.”
The head nod and other facial expressions such as lifted eyebrows are part of what language researchers call back channel cues. As a public speaker, it’s a route that can help you establish rapport with your audience. If you can get them nodding along with you, Boker said, you may be able to activate pathways in their brains that help them empathize with your feelings.
So yes, men and women do differ when it comes to communication styles. But maybe it’s reassuring to know that this is one case that has less to do with the battle of the sexes, and more to do with a meeting of the minds.
(Editor's note: This article in our "Speaking Science" series on the research behind public speaking was written by contributor Becky Ham.)
(Creative Commons licensed photo by rosarodoe with words added)
Posted by Denise Graveline at Thursday, June 11, 2015