He Thinks, She Thinks: Our Brains Are Different
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Anyone with workplace experience knows men and women process information and communicate
differently. Dealing with gender differences can prove challenging, especially for managers and leaders.
Regardless of which industry you’re in or the position you fill, male and female coworkers can
experience a shared event and come away with different emotional stories.

We seem to be hardwired this way. Now that neuroscience is becoming more sophisticated, with tools
like brain imaging, what are we learning about the gender divide?

Here are the key findings:

  1. Emotions are useful. They make the brain pay attention.
  2. Men and women process certain emotions differently.
  3. These distinctions are a product of complex interactions between nature and nurture.

Picture this: Several managers exit a stressful meeting, where the discussion was lively and occasionally heated.

A female manager jokingly asks her friend if all men are missing a gene for sensitivity. A male colleague overhears her remark and doesn’t understand her reaction.

As he reaches his office, he quietly shares a comment with a buddy about female emotional reactivity
and then changes the subject to competitive bottom-line results.

Both are intelligent managers on their way up. But if you listen closely to their accounts of the meeting,
you would think they had attended separate events.

Brain Differences

We can look to biology and the brain for explanations. In Brain Rules (Pear Press, 2008), molecular
biologist John Medina cites these gender variations:

  • Males have only one X chromosome, while females have two. As it happens, the X chromosome is a cognitive “hot spot,” carrying a large percentage of genes involved in brain development. The extra X in females acts as a backup, in case of need.
  • Men’s and women’s brains differ structurally and biochemically.
    • Men have a bigger amygdala, a structure that processes emotions. Their brains alsomore rapidly produce serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates mood, learning andmemory, among other functions.
    • Women have larger connectors in the corpus callosum, which links the brain’s right andleft hemispheres.
  • Men and women respond differently to acute stress.
    • Women activate the left hemisphere’s amygdala and remember emotional details.
    • Men use the right amygdala and more easily identify the gist of a situation.

What do these disparities mean in the workplace? How do they manifest in male/female communications?

Small Talk

Speech patterns among women tend to be more collaborative than those of men, and women strive to

support each other’s engagement in a conversation.

Small talk is likely to include compliments about appearance, personal aspects of their lives, their

troubles and their secrets. Such self-disclosure generates closer relationships.

By contrast, men’s small talk tends to be more competitive, with verbal sparring matches, playful insults

and putdowns. However, these are signs of solidarity. Men are communicating that they’re comfortable

enough to say things without worrying about insulting their buddies.

Giving Orders

Men and women differ in how they manage people and give orders. Studies show women soften their

demands and statements, whereas men are more direct and unapologetic.

Women, for example, use phrases like:

  • “Don’t you think?” (after presenting an idea)
  • “If you don’t mind?” (following a demand)
  • “This may be a crazy idea, but. . .” (preceding a suggestion)

Many women are culturally conditioned to encourage harmony in relationships, as evidenced by

softened demands, hedged statements and a more tentative communication style.

But tentative communication doesn’t mean a woman actually feels tentative or lacks confidence.

Similarly, more direct communication, as seen with men and some women, doesn’t mean a person is

arrogant, bossy or feels superior. These are learned communication styles.

Asking Questions

In general, women ask more questions than men, which can create confusion.

Questioning means different things to men and women. Men usually ask questions for one reason: to

gather information.

For women, asking questions serves two purposes:

  1. To gather information – but as you may have noticed, women also ask questions when they already know the answers. Why?
  2. They want to show interest to cultivate relationships.

As with most human behavior, there’s a biological basis for these dissimilar communication styles.

Mental Disorders

Mental health professionals have known for years about sex-based differences in psychiatric disorders.

  • Males are more severely afflicted with schizophrenia.
  • Women are more likely to suffer from depression, by a margin of two to one.
  • Males exhibit more antisocial behavior.
  • Females have more anxiety.
  • More alcoholics and drug addicts are male.
  • Most anorexics are female.

How the brain processes stress explains some of these discrepancies. As noted earlier, the amygdale
governs many emotional responses, as well as our ability to remember them. After experiencing a
traumatic event, the female amygdala communicates with the left brain hemisphere. The opposite
occurs in men: Their amygdala communicates with the right hemisphere.

As a result, women remember the emotional details of an event, while men recall the ultimate outcome.
Furthermore, women tend to use both hemispheres when speaking and processing verbal information,
while men primarily use one.

“She’s So Emotional. . .”

The next time you hear men make the argument that women are more emotional, consider the
following: Women have access to more emotional data. Their brains are built that way, allowing them to
detect more emotional nuances.

But too much emotional information can interfere with rapid decision-making. Men can more quickly
pinpoint the overall situation.

Neither gender is right or wrong, nor better or worse. If we recognize the basic brain distinctions in
males and females, we can be more tolerant and forgiving of each other’s “shortcomings.”

As your coach, I can help you look at yourself in a way that can’t be done on your own.

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Moty Koppes is a certified master coach providing you with personal development, life coaching, relationship coaching, communication skills, personal power, life balance, career coaching, productivity enhancement, executive coaching and stress reduction in Newport Beach, Orange County, Southern California.