THE BLOG
01/21/2014 08:33 am ET Updated Jan 25, 2014

He Said, She Said

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Are women more emotional, men more logical? Are women more focused on relationships, men more on tasks? Are men smarter, or are women smarter? Neuroscientists are revealing exciting new ways to leverage the strengths of men and women at work so that new thinking will emerge.

Using a Gender Lens to See Clearly
The meeting was over, and everyone felt like this was one of the best decisions that they had ever reached. What made this meeting better? First, the men and women in attendance were gender-aware. They'd studied the natural ways that men and women process information, make decisions, discuss and listen, and they applied this knowledge to their conversations. Neuroscience is opening up a new gender lens that gives leaders a way to dispel old myths, and gain insight into how best to draw upon men's and women's strengths. These studies illustrate how men and women think. They provide startling insights that will change how we converse at work.

As we learn to combine women's with men's way of thinking and conversing, we create an emergent system, with new possibilities. We'll be hitting nodes in a new way and opening up new pathways.

Let's look at what we're learning:

Listening: Women and men listen differently, in part due to our brain differences. Men and women listen differently based on how their brains respond to problem solving, decision making, innovation, and relationship building.

How Women Listen: By nature, women are more interested in the journey--the process of getting to the destination. They listen by connecting more data points, listening with a larger frame of reference, processing context, connecting data points, and listening for implications. Why? Women's brains have a larger corpus callosum where the frontal lobes reside. This may enable greater verbal skills. The corpus callosum connects left and right hemispheres, enabling the two hemispheres to communicate rapidly and efficiently with each other.

How men listen: Men are more interested in the destination. They often see the end point more quickly and seek the conclusion. Men listen with a more focused attention to solving a problem, making a decision or taking action quickly. Why? Men have more gray matter tissue in the back of the brain where the visual spatial capabilities reside. Men have more compartmentalized listening--using the left-brain--while women use both their left and right brains. Men listen to make a decision, to get the answer, or to fix a problem, while women listen first to get the broad context and explore the dynamics so they can make the decision with a broader perspective.

In cognitive abilities, the difference between men's and women's brains is very small. Men's and women's IQs do not differ much--they just get there in different ways. Men's brains are 10 percent larger, but the size does not equate to 10 percent greater intelligence. Men's brains may have more redundancy of structure built in, perhaps to protect the male brain. Women's brains, having less exposure to traumatic damage, appear to be more efficient; yet these structural differences do not translate into more cognitive abilities--or higher IQ for men.

Your brain is built to handle complexity and adapt to changes. Two things, common to men and women of all ages, make us human and give us our edge:

We are masters at pigeon holing. We give labels (words) to things quickly. We rapidly define and make meaning. Since we have to generalize, we can assign incorrect labels. Yet labels are so powerful that they can blind us from seeing anything but the label we have assigned.
° Gender bender: Blindspots can cause us to stereotype others incorrectly. By stereotyping, we force people to conform to the labels and stop treating them as unique. Labels can be gender-biased ones that get in the way of appreciating and leveraging each other's real differences.
° Gender consciousness: Inclusion and diversity practices break down the tendency to stereotype and create a forum for cross-gender collaboration, which builds respect into the culture and honors gender diversity in teams and relationships.
We are a massive pattern-recognition mechanism. We classify people into bins so that we can move through the complexities. We form comparables that give us a sense of safety and confidence. And we create patterns in our minds of how things work--patterns that give us roadmaps for navigating the complex words of decision-making.
° Gender bender: The risk with pattern-making is that we stop seeing what is taking place around us, and form male-centric or women-centric strategies that miss the reality of changes.
° Gender consciousness: To break out of habitual patterns, we need to bring men and women together to draw out the best of each when creating practices--building on the strengths each has to offer.

Some of the differences in men and women's brains are stereotypical and prevent us from performing at our best; others are real, and by understanding them, we can leverage the best we have to bring at the best time in the decision process.

Being aware of possible Gender Benders, and interrupting the patterns, gives men and women a new sense of freedom and creativity to bring their best selves to work.

The highest state of being is to live as Dynamic Adaptable Systems--where we constantly form new connections based on new information.

When we're gender aware, we create the best environment for the dynamic emergence of new thinking, sustain a state of dynamic resilience, and constantly update and refresh our brains with new information. In essence, we become incredibly resilient and adaptable. We can honor the differences between the sexes and hit the nodes in a new and better way.

Judith E. Glaser, CEO Benchmark Communications, Inc. & Chairman of the Creating WE Institute; Author of 4 Best Selling books including Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results (Bibliomotion 2013) www.creatingwe.com; www.conversationalintelligence.com, jeglaser@creatingwe.com