Differences Between the Sexes
If you’re a woman, you may sometimes wonder how your male
colleagues can get into a heated discussion during a business
meeting, end the meeting with issue unresolved, yet walk out of the
room as the best of friends.
And if you’re a man, you may get frustrated when talking with
your female co-workers about one topic, and they bring fourteen more
topics into the conversation – all of which seem totally unrelated.
We all know that men and women think and act differently,
both at work and at home, but knowing there are differences between
people is only half the battle. To have successful working
relationships with members of the opposite sex, you also have to
know why those differences matter and what to do about them. The
good news is that with a little insight into men and women, you can
overcome the apparent communication and behavioral challenges that
plague any workplace and gain greater understanding of each other.
Once Upon a Time…:
Before we can look forward to a harmonious future, we need to begin by
looking back into human evolution. Once upon a time about a million
years ago, communities consisted of hunters (men) and gatherers
(women). The hunters left every morning and tried to hunt food for
the community. The gatherers stayed home and gathered the nuts and
berries and made preparations for the food the men would bring back.
So as far back as scientists can tell, women and men had different
roles, and as a result, their brains developed in different ways.
For example, a man’s brain goes in and out of a rest state
all day. Millions of years ago when men sat in trees waiting for
their prey, they had to be quiet and disengaged. They didn’t want to
scare away their potential dinner. So their brain evolved to learn
to engage, disengage, engage, disengage throughout the day.
Women, on the other hand, couldn’t do that. They had to be on
high alert all day, protecting themselves and their children as they
gathered necessities and tended to the community’s needs. Their
brains evolved to be always active.
In fact, if you look at an fMRI (functional MRI) of a man’s
brain at rest and a woman’s brain at rest, you’ll see that the
woman’s brain is busy and firing everywhere, whereas the man’s brain
is quiet. This is not to say that one gender is better than the
other; it’s simply an illustration of one of the many differences
between men and women and how it evolved.
So what else is different from a brain wiring perspective?
Here are a few highlights:
chemicals. Men produce more testosterone, and women produce more
oxytocin. Testosterone is an aggressive chemical, and oxytocin
is a “tend and befriend” kind of chemical. These chemicals are
significant drivers in a person’s brain.
women have a 28 day cycle, men have a cycle every day. Their
testosterone spikes in the morning when they wake up (so they
can go out and hunt), wanes in the afternoon, and spikes again
in the evening around 8 p.m. It then goes back down, only to
repeat the cycle the next day.
Men have more gray matter, while women have more white matter.
The gray matter is used for local processing of thoughts and
tasks. The white matter is what connects everything. This is why
when a woman is processing an emotional event, she will do so
immediately. All the interconnections make processing faster in
her mind. A man is processing locally and will do so for a
longer time. He doesn’t have the same type of factors to draw
While both men and women understand hierarchy, men really
understand it. Whoever brought back the biggest animal from hunt
received the most status in the community. So that desire to be
“top dog” and get their point across is innate in men. Likewise,
women wanted the security of being with the men who could
provide the most food for the family, which is why even today
women (no matter what their income level or social status) want
to be associated with successful men. It’s hardwired.
Of course, there are always exceptions to every rule. Within
the spectrum of both male and female brains, there are gradations.
There is also something called the “bridge brain,” which is someone
who has characteristics of both the male and female brains.
Why This Matters:
Because we’re working and communicating with each other every day,
knowing the differences in gender communications is vital. Much has
already been written about personality, values, and behavioral
differences in communication; now it’s time to overlap gender
differences into the equation.
For example, while women have distinct viewpoints on topics,
when they communicate they often try to “keep the peace.” Men,
however, are typically more aggressive in their communications, more
argumentative about their ideas, and more vocal about their stand on
a certain thing.
Women focus on building consensus. And because they’re
contextual and they process information in the white matter, they’re
often trying to reduce the heated arguments. This doesn’t mean a
woman doesn’t like a good argument; however, if it gets hostile and
the woman gets stressed, she’ll start producing oxytocin, which will
prompt her to take steps to calm the situation down.
And because women have so much white matter, they may take a
longer time to answer a question because they’re filtering it
through the article they read this morning or what their boss said
two days ago. Think of it like sorting in a computer. They’re doing
a huge sort through the entire database to arrive at an answer.
Tips for Better Communication:
To ease the daily workplace communication challenges, keep
the following points in mind:
white matter in mind. They are not jumping from topic to topic
just to annoy you. In their brain, everything is connected.
women “tend and befriend.” As a result, they have a tendency to
use up-talk – where it sounds like they end every sentence with
a question mark. Or they say such things as “What do you think?”
This does not mean they don’t know what to think. They simply
want to gain consensus.
Women all over
the world tend to use more emotionally loaded words when they
communicate. So they use high drama phrases and words such as
“always” and “never” much more often than men do.
If you want to
talk to a man about something that’s critical, and you think
he’s going to be defensive, don’t do it at the 9 a.m. meeting or
after hours at the company dinner. Remember that daily cycle.
Don’t jump from
subject to subject, and always condense your thoughts into short
sentences. Men have a word limit (this has been scientifically
tested), and once they reach their word limit, it’s almost like
a little blind goes down. They simply can’t process any more
Remember that a
man’s brain shifts into that rest state throughout the day. So
when you’re talking to him and he’s fidgeting, tapping his
fingers on the table, or even doodling during the meeting, it
doesn’t necessarily mean he’s bored or not interested. In fact,
it probably means just the opposite. He’s unconsciously forcing
himself to stay alert, keeping his brain active by that
Closing the Great Divide:
The key now is to accept this information, embrace it, and
impose it as a new structure of thought in your own mind. Become
conscious and aware of the differences between the sexes and use it
in your daily interactions with others. By doing so, you can ease
some of the frustrations you feel when communicating at work and
build professional relationships built on understanding,
collaboration, and trust.
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