Gender, Power, and Communication in Human Relationships

By Pamela J. Kalbfleisch; Michael J. Cody | Go to book overview

Chapter 3
Gender, Immediacy, and Nonverbal Communication

Judee K. Burgoon University of Arizona Leesa Dillman University of Nevada at Las Vegas

Power, dominance, and equality are, at heart, relational issues: They define the nature of interpersonal relationships. Much of that definitional process is accomplished nonverbally. Nonverbal relational messages signal how participants regard each other, their relationship, and themselves in the relationship. Central to that definitional process is determining who wields power within a relationship and how that power is manifested through nonverbal messages. Often examined under the rubric of dominance and status displays, nonverbal research has begun to tackle the task of profiling what cues express or are construed as power, dominance, and status or powerlessness, submissiveness, and subservience. Our interest here is in assessing the extent to which women and men differ in their nonverbal expressions of power and dominance, particularly through the use of immediacy behaviors.

Immediacy cues are behaviors such as conversational distance, lean, body orientation, gaze, and touch that engage the senses, signal approach or avoidance, and create psychological distance or closeness between interactants ( Mehrabian, 1981). Apart from deserving particular attention because they are ever-present signals in face-to-face interaction, immediacy cues warrant close scrutiny because they are simultaneously oft-cited gender-linked behaviors and leading candidates for conveying messages of dominance and power (see, e.g., Henley, chapter 2, this volume; Mazur, 1985; Ridgeway, 1987; Burgoon, Buller, & Woodall, 1989).

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