Can Men Be Trained To Understand Women?
According to Michael Gurian, co-author of Leadership and the Sexes: Using Gender Science to Create Success in Business with Barbara Annis, not only can men be trained to understand and value the sometimes nurturing and collaborative leadership styles of some women, but women can learn to respect what they might perceive as the hyper-competitiveness and abruptness of some men. These traits, they argue, are hard-wired rather than created purely through cultural and societal influences.
Through their respective companies, both Michael of The Gurian Institute and Barbara of Barbara Annis & Associates Inc. offer specialized training that yields bottom-line results for client companies. In a telephone conversation, Michael took a few moments to help me understand brain-based gender-intelligence training.
I asked what many readers might wonder: does he get negative reaction when he proposes that women might operate differently than men or that men might think differently than women? He told me that the reaction is overwhelmingly positive. There are several reasons why Michael's approach has not been controversial among his audiences; he:
- proposes that men and women are equally but differently intelligent, thereby avoiding either a men-are-better or women-are-superior polarization;
- presents scientific studies conducted over a period of 20 years, accompanied by brain scans showing differences in white and gray matter, neural activity, etc.;
- concedes that there are exceptions to any and all generalities about gender;
- avoids stereotyping;
- reaches people who have gender-related problems, which they believe can be solved through greater gender intelligence.
It’s a reasonable and often successful tactic to adapt our individual styles to that of the dominant culture or, depending on the scenario, the style of the customer. However, it can be an advantage even to the dominant culture to understand, accept, and embrace different ways of thinking, problem solving, communicating, managing, and leading so that all talent – and not just some talent – contributes to corporate success.
Barbara, for example, became a sales star for Sony in the 1980s but she found that she had to forgo her authentic style for a more male-like approach. Women are often frustrated, she has found, because their styles don't sync with the corporate culture; but when they change their styles, it seems unnatural and is rejected. Or, in some cases, undergoing a daily personality change for the workplace is tiresome. (See references to barracuda in this Gender Differences report, which also covers men's unique challenges; and Catalyst's IBM-sponsored report on The Double Bind for Women in Leadership: Damned if You Do, Doomed if You Don't). Barbara left Sony to start her own consulting firm and now teaches client organizations, such as IBM and Deloitte & Touche, how to achieve gender balance in leadership.
In regard to the science behind gender-based differences, here are examples offered in Leadership and the Sexes:
"Men have approximately six and a half times more gray matter related to cognition and intelligence than women have, and women have nearly ten times more white matter related to cognition and intelligence than men have. In all our brains, gray matter processes information locally in the brain, whereas white matter networks and connects information between between different information processing centers in the brain."
“Overall, there is more neural activity in the female brain at any given time than in the male brain, as evidenced by 15 to 20 percent more blood flow, with more brain centers ‘lit up’ in a scan of a female brain. The male brain is more prone than the female to 'zone out' or 'blank out' during conversations or at times of exhaustion and stress."
“Women have, in general, a more active cingulate gyrus than men. One result of this difference is that women’s approach to life and to work is one of constantly reassessing…Men don’t remember as much, process as much, run as much experience through the gyrus, so they spend less time internally processing, and thus can often be less contextual than women.”
The book provides practical business applications of gender intelligence for meetings, negotiations, and day-to-day communications. I've selected a few to several points that I thought were interesting and useful.
Men (and women) should understand that some women may
- seem to change topics but are really connecting what seems to be disparate information in a (hopefully) meaningful way
- value adequate discussion time as much as they value productive meetings that reach specific outcomes
- feel less valued overall if their opinions are not sought
and women (and men) should understand that some men may
- need to move around in order to stay focused
- become frustrated at tangential, seemingly unfocused conversations
- lose or seem to lose interest if discussions become lengthy
so a gender-intelligent approach to meetings may involve
- creating a meeting agenda
- being clear about the purpose and intended outcomes of the meeting
- soliciting ideas from everyone
- building consensus by asking what each person thinks of proposals
- connecting words to specific outcomes
- providing essential information and leaving out tangential information
- saving great, but just rejected, ideas for future meetings
Men (and women) should realize that many women may
- be able to interpret cues about what others are thinking and feeling based on facial expressions
- take longer to make a decision because they have picked up more cues and need time to process this information
- decide to kill a deal because of a negative comment but still continue to listen
- prefer interest-based to position-based negotiations
women (and men) should realize that many men may
- take greater risks in negotiations
- focus on presenting data rather than building rapport
- feel dominance over competitors who don’t look them in the eye
- value specific outcomes over relationships
so a gender-intelligent approach to negotiations may mean
- assessing the styles of all who will be participating in negotiations
- building a team with an expert at building rapport and an expert at presenting data
- establishing desired outcomes
- preserving relationships for future business dealings and negotiations
Men (and women) should understand that some women may
- use lots of words in order to connect ideas and bring forth new ideas during the discussion
- consider interruption a sign of disrespect and poor listening
- need more information and clarification than is offered initially
- self-criticize and question themselves silently
- enjoy process as much as outcome
- not want to constantly hear about your accomplishments
women (and men) should realize that some men may
- interrupt if they perceive that you are giving too much information
- view humility as a sign of weakness
- criticize others rather than accept negative feelings about themselves
- only want to hear about results, not processes
- appear not to be listening when they really are listening
so a gender-intelligent approach to communications may mean
- dispensing criticism less bluntly with some women than some male counterparts
- encouraging listeners to ask questions
- realizing that good relationships in the workplace can lead to higher morale and greater productivity
- understanding that smiling and attentiveness on the listener's part doesn't necessarily mean agreement with the speaker
- concentrating on giving essential information only; explain that you feel disrespected if interrupted
- discussing accomplishments in order to “position themselves competitively in the workplace”; for those who naturally self-promote, realizing that others may not want to work with someone who is constantly discussing his/her accomplishments
- asking others what they think about a topic rather than trying to ascertain their interest based on their facial expressions
Do corporations immediately understand and adopt gender-intelligent behavior? Michael told me that his audiences usually experience “aha” moments when they see brain-scan differences and grasp why certain approaches lead to misunderstanding among those with differing styles. Putting the theory into real-world applications that deliver better results, though, can take some time. He will often consult with these companies over a period of year so that organizations and their members can access his wisdom as they seek to make changes.
Having a framework to value diverse approaches without diminishing the rights of others is refreshing. And, it is rewarding as well. According to research presented by Catalyst, Inc., Fortune 500 companies with greater female representation on their boards compared to those with the least representation outperform in return on equity (higher by 53%), return on sales (higher by 42%), and return on invested capital (higher by 66%).
Disclosure: I received Leadership and the Sexes in exchange for a book review.