UPFRONT Wired, women and wrong

Women are apparently better than men at multi-tasking and read body language better. But they can, it seems, be confusingly indirect when giving instructions and are biologically handicapped when it comes to parking cars.
Gender stereotyping is touchy topic. Shoving people into biologically determined boxes is, some say, at best simplistic, at worst limiting. But best-selling author of the books Body Language and Why Men Don’t Listen & Women Can’t Read Maps Allan Pease, reckons “you can’t buck biology” and cites recent brain research as proof.
MRI scanning, he says, has allowed researchers to pinpoint which areas of the brain are implicated in specific tasks and shows “quite dramatically how male and female brains operate in different ways”. It’s one reason why women managers do better in organisational structures that are less hierarchical and more people-centred.
“It used to be about having high testosterone male at the helm with flag running ahead. If you couldn’t keep up that was your problem. Now management is about being coach – someone who runs alongside the team encouraging them, helping them make joint decisions, and these are natural intuitive female skills. Women’s brains are wired to do this. They’re good at building relationships.”
Pease is in New Zealand this month to share his views on why understanding brain function has become major key in the business change process. His message is directed to owners, managers, marketers and anyone with an interest in communication.
The bottom line, says Pease, is that gender differences affect communication.
“If you’re man and present to woman as though she is also man, you’re not going to do so well – and vice versa.”
One example is multi-tasking. Research shows women have speech and language positions in both brain hemispheres while men’s tend to be concentrated in one, says Pease. And women enjoy stronger neural links between the two hemispheres.
“It means most women can do between two to four simultaneous unrelated things. That also applies to discussion. They can multi-track – talk on several topics at the same time and women listeners can piece those subjects together. But male brains tend to be more mono-tracked – they focus on one thing at time,” he says.
“Put that in management context and it can spell disaster for both men and women. For example, if women multi-track with men when giving instructions. She thinks she’s made it clear – he doesn’t get it. So when she brings the subject up week or so later, he’s likely to deny it was ever discussed.”
Communication can go awry in other ways. For women talk is social glue; for men it’s more to do with conveying information. One outcome of this is that men tend to use more direct speech than women and whilst her indirectness is apt to baffle, his directness can be construed by her as rude, aggressive, critical or high-handed.
Then there are the different approaches to problem resolution. Women often want to talk their way through something, finding solution in the telling. Men, on the other hand, are more inclined to offer specific answers. When they try that with women, they’re often seen as not listening or as “always telling me what to do”, says Pease.
While these biological stereotypes aren’t universal they do, he says, apply to the majority – roughly three out of five men and ditto for women. It influences career choices and, according to Pease, it’s no accident that women are strongly represented in the caring professions and, despite big inroads into management, are still poorly represented at senior executive level.
It’s not lack of capability so much as choice, he adds. “Generally women are not keen to take on roles that are so demanding it means giving up things that involve their relationships – with family, kids, friends. Women’s brains are organised for different priorities.”
Pease and wife Barbara have been credited with writing the definitive book on body language (which gives apparently biological reasons for female fluency) and his book, Why Men Don’t Listen & Women Can’t Read Maps has been translated into 36 languages with more than eight million copies sold worldwide.
Currently based in Queensland, Pease is running one-day seminars this month in Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland (information at www.theknowledgegym.com).

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