Books have been written. Research has been undertaken. Papers pressed. Think: the critically acclaimed Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, that may have imprinted an odd look on the faces of eager misplaced astronomy nerds.
Writers on this topic tend to introduce themselves as modern-day whistle-blowers, having the courage to go against the grain of the orthodox feminism movement that tenaciously claims that men and women are by nature the same. Leading psychologist, Simon Baron-Cohen, author of The Essential Difference, states that he put the book aside for several years because "the topic was just too politically sensitive"¹.
Yet, today, the innate difference between Women and Men has a paper trail to be proud of – and beyond that, most of us can attest to stumbling across it serendipitously in the crests and troughs of everyday life.
No matter the fragile state of political correctness, science remains at the top of the food chain and will always have the upper hand.
Our differences are stitched into the fabric of our natural behaviour. We catch glimpses of them in how we communicate, how we react when the going gets tough, how we tackle a Rubik’s cube.
These different behavioural toolkits are what often leave us in states best described by the chin-stroking emoji – or fiery red angry on a bad day – when navigating the world and especially, the workplace.
That’s because if you’re a woman, no matter how much you try (and I know you do), you cannot see the world through a man’s eyes. And vice versa.
Everyone falls victim to gender blind spots.
But where do these blind spots come from?
Let’s talk straight science for a minute.
A language barrier you never knew you had
It is a truism that men and women do not communicate in the same way. But is there any real evidence to explain this difference? And, how do women’s patterns of communication differ from those of men?
One prominent scientist, Dr. Furlich Ph.D. (author of Sex Talk: How Biological Sex Influences Gender Communication Differences Throughout Life’s Stages), describes women as being generally better at non-verbal communication. As they speak, women also have more blood flow to brain regions that are integral in processing of emotion, language and memory – as a result, they are found to more actively weave past memories and emotions into the conversation².
By contrast, men gravitate towards “report talk”, meaning they tend to speak in a rather literal, non-emotional format. Another scientist, Dr. Eliot Ph.D., (author of Pink Brain, Blue Brain: How Small Differences Grow into Troublesome Gaps — and What We Can Do About It), extends the gender differences to the topic of confidence. Women are found to be more tentative when conversing, less declarative and more inclined to employ “uptalk” – essentially, finishing sentences by going up in tone, in the same way one would ask a question. This conveys a lower level of confidence in their assertions. Studies also show that men interrupt women more, and that they speak more than women in mixed-group settings ².
Now comes the real thorny question: are we born with fundamentally different communication styles as a result of our hormones and brain anatomy – or is it all simply learned?
Even the scientific literature can’t seem to make up its mind on this one. Let’s call it what it is: the sticky melting pot of nature vs. nurture.
One finding is that people born biologically female have a much more integrated brain – that means there are more connections across both hemispheres of the brain. Men, on the other hand, have more connections within each hemisphere, but not linking the two. While female brains contain higher levels of white matter, which also aids in coordination of different brain regions, male brains possess more grey matter, starkly aiding information processing.
Thanks to these structural differences in our brains’ delicate anatomical blueprints, we can explain some shape of our social interactions. The fact that women possess higher connectivity across hemispheres permits them to engage in conversation at the same time as analysing non-verbal behaviour and arriving at conclusions of how their dialogue is being received. Call it communicational multi-tasking, if you will.
It also explains why men have trouble combining speaking with analysing: they therefore have a more literal understanding of conversation, and may miss picking up on nuance and hidden messages.
This difference in the ability to multitask while communicating is a key factor shaping the stereotypical gender-specific communication styles that have become entrenched in pop culture, greetings cards and the crude punch lines of jokes. Just think: Men don’t listen. Women can read your mind.
Another big player in explaining gender differences: sex hormones.
You can think of the brain as an engine and hormones as the oil that makes everything fall into place and function smoothly. Testosterone and estrogen can mold language abilities: higher levels of estrogen lead to a fostering of language skills such as being able to have complicated conversations and explaining how you feel². By contrast, testosterone increases spatial abilities, like navigating and measuring distances — more than likely the culprit root of the antiquated stereotype that men can read maps better than women.
So how do we go about communicating with the opposite sex with respect to our different patterns of communication? Scientists point out that mimicking behavior dramatically increases oxytocin levels in one’s own brain, which aids the promotion of empathy and thus lead to more less conflict-prone exchanges². Empathy is the secret sauce of every interpersonal relationship and you may be surprised how much power a conversation starting with empathy can hold.
Men who mimic stereotypically gentle female behaviors can have more understanding and open conversations. One medical professor, Dr. Lise Eliot, Ph.D., confessed: “I’ve witnessed my own male medical students learn to interview patients in a more open, accepting way by emulating their female teachers”².
Of course, a large subset of scientists proclaim that communication styles and skills are simply learned. According to the aforementioned Dr. Lise Eliot, Ph.D., our varying modes of communication are shaped by social learning and mimicry. This argument is based in the superior power of those “corresponding same-sex models beginning from babies’ earliest days” that contribute so much to molding who we are and who we become ².
Whether a result of nature or nurture – or most likely a concoction of the two – it is true across the board that Men and Women possess distinctive skill toolkits.
At the Global Collective, we are all about recognising the unique capacities of the genders and fusing these to create a collective, competitive advantage in business. Taking a deep dive into the beautifully intricate structures in our brains helps us understand the powerful way in which Men and Women complement each other. That’s why we are creating an ecosystem in which female entrepreneurs can easily connect with often male-led investment firms and create start-ups that are stronger, faster-growing and delivering higher returns on investment.
Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more about our business ecosystem in the works!
¹ Baron-Cohen, S. (2010). The Essential Difference: Male and Female Brains and the Truth about Autism.