Women and men use different parts of their brains to process information, often resulting in miscommunication. Understanding how messages process through different brain channels helps us communicate more clearly across gender.
- Women's brains work in wonderful ways. While both men and women process information efficiently and communicate effectively, women have unique cognitive strengths. Let's take a closer look at the ways men's and women's brains work differently and how to best capitalize on the strengths of female ways of thinking. First, male brains use about seven times more gray matter and women's brains use about 10 times more white matter. So why is this important? Well, gray matter is used for deep thought.
It can translate to a kind of tunnel vision. It's great for deep concentration on a single task. White matter is the networking grid that connects the processing centers of the brain with one another. It allows for quick transitions between tasks and seeing connections between apparently different things. Second, female brains tend to have a slightly larger hippocampus. This is the human memory center and it's where we absorb information from the environment. Because of this, women tend to be better at reading nonverbal cues and they'll notice and remember more about a place or a situation.
Additionally, females tend to have a slightly larger anterior cortex than men. This is the part of the brain that controls emotion and memory. This may explain why women tend to remember and focus on negative past experiences more than men do. Men tend to reflect on the emotional experience and then move on. Women, on the other hand, will revisit that experience again and again, particularly if they feel like they failed in some way. Now while these are general tendencies, they're not hard and fast rules.
Your brain is a muscle and the more you work it, the stronger it gets. Women can be task focused and men can learn to notice environmental cues. But if you want to capitalize on the strengths of both male and female brains, here are some tips. First, make sure meeting agendas include room for white and gray matter processing. Explicitly ask for project details and then ask for a general contextual analysis. Don't let one kind of thinking take over the process.
Now obviously solutions need to have details and be well thought out, but it's equally important to think about the people and systems affected by a proposal so you can figure out the best implementation plan. Ideally, a team's agenda will allow for both kinds of analysis, allowing both male and female brains to matter. Second, talk about impressions as well as facts. Sometimes it's hard for the female brain to express what they intuitively know. Things like he's upset or she doesn't like this proposal may be very accurate assessments, but not always things we say out loud.
For this important perspective to be heard, women need to trust their instincts and explain what they see and those impressions should be treated as valid. Both male and female ways of thinking are valuable. The trick is to be careful that both of them are valued in your organization.
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