The third dimension of relationship-level meaning is power. We use
nonverbal behaviors to assert dominance and to negotiate for status and
). Given what we have learned about gender
socialization, it is not surprising that men generally assume greater
amounts of space than women and use greater volume and more forceful
gestures to assert themselves (
; Leathers, 1986;
Schmidlin, & Williams, 1990
Status also affects tendencies to communicate power nonverbally. The
prerogative to touch another reflects power, so people with power tend to
touch those with less power. For instance, bosses touch secretaries far more
often than secretaries touch bosses (
Hall, Coats, & Smith-LeBeau, 2004
Spain, 1992). Time is also linked to people's status. People who are
considered important can keep others waiting. How often have you waited
for your appointment at a doctor's office? People with high status can also
be late to appointments and events without risking serious repercussions.
Yet, if someone with lower power is late, she or he may suffer disapproval,
penalties, or cancellation of the appointment.
Last summer, I had an internship with a big accounting firm in
Washington, and space really told the story on status. Interns like me
worked in two large rooms on the first floor with partitions to separate
our desks. New employees worked on the second floor in little cubicles.
The higher up you were in the hierarchy of the firm, the higher up your
office was—literally. I mean, the president and vice presidents—six of
them—had the whole top floor, while there were 40 or more interns
crowded onto my floor.
As Jerry's observations indicate, space can express power relations.
People who have power usually have more space than those who have little
or no power. Most executives have large, spacious offices, whereas their
secretaries often have smaller offices or workstations. As people move up
the organizational ladder, they tend to have larger offices. Homes also
reflect power differences among family members. Adults usually have more
space than children, and men more often than women have their own
rooms, chairs, or other special spaces.
Responsiveness, liking, and power are dimensions of relationship-level
meanings that are often expressed through nonverbal communication.
Nonverbal Communication Reflects and
Expresses Cultural Values