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Leadership & Communication

Gender Agenda: It’s the Serotonin, Stupid

10 Dec 2014, by Informa Insights

By Jenny Strachan*

I was watching the smash hit ‘Jersey Boys’ the other day whJenny Strachanen it struck me that it provided a perfect example of how men and women think differently.

The Boys’ big hit was “Big Girls Don’t Cry”.

The title seems to make simple sense but in fact it’s complete nonsense – because big girls DO cry (lots of big boys do these days too). However, it was, and still is, unacceptable for women to show emotion, particularly in a business environment.

The problem that has plagued us since Eve is that we communicate in a different way – our brains are not male wired. But in fact, the cause is simply chemical. In his book ‘Brain Rules’*, John Medina explains:

“Biochemicals have not escaped sex differences. Serotonin, key in regulating emotion and mood… can be synthesised by males 52 per cent faster than with females.”

So a woman is often labelled ’emotional’ in a business conflict because she wants to express her feelings about the situation. Her male counterpart may resist the encounter through selective inattention, so he only hears what information is needed to make a decision on what to do. However, the woman, who can’t synthesise serotonin as quickly as the man and so regulate her emotional state as quickly, may require an empathic listener because she needs someone to hear how she feels so they can talk through the issues.

“Women tend to use both brain hemispheres when speaking and processing verbal information,” says Medina. “Men primarily use one. Women tend to have thick cables connecting their two hemispheres. Men’s are thinner.”

So, women are often more articulate than men and more sophisticated in their language patterns. But this can create conflict in a business meeting because women don’t ‘cut to the chase’; they would prefer to engage in a debate discussing the finer details of the argument. This can be construed as women being indecisive and unable to come to a quick decision.

Women in business will often use collaborative language patterns with tag endings to seek approval and consensus. A woman might say, “Let’s go ahead with this decision, is that okay with you all?”. A man might say, “Go ahead”. Judgements may then be made about the woman’s competence to lead decisively because she uses collaborative language rather than direct orders.

It is much harder for women to adapt to this more forceful style of speaking, as it is not natural to their language pattern, and if they do, they are often accused of being ‘bossy’.

They’re not; they’re just different.

*Medina, J., Brain Rules, Scribe, 2014.

*Jenny is an award winning author and international conference presenter and trainer with over 25 years experience in the corporate sector. She has designed and delivered communication, influence, personal presence and leadership programs, and as an executive coach to facilitate change in organisations.

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