I read an article in the Wall Street Journal that described how our cultures have been shaped by how leaders use their brains. Although the article didn’t state outright that left-brain dominant leaders are at the source of our problems, this is implied in the text. Since men tend to be the heavier users of the left hemisphere of the brain, I found the article gave evidence to the need to have more women in leadership positions to balance perspective when discussing critical issues.
On a more personal level, I found some great insights in the article to help me better communicate or at least better understand left-brain thinkers. I’ll share a few points here.
But first let me say that yes, there are men who access the right side of their brains proficiently, and even compulsively. However, there have been many studies that indicate that especially under duress, men tend to primarily access their logical, fixate-on-one-point-of-view-and-solve-the-problem-from-here left side of their brains. I talk more about how this plays out in the workplace in this week’s Huffington Post blog entry.
Due to both our biology and our upbringing, women tend to be more balanced, accessing both their right and left hemispheres when solving problems and communicating to others. Or if they lean to one side of the brain, they rely more heavily on their right hemisphere which leads them to focus on nonverbal as well as verbal cues, see interconnections among all parts of an issue, consider social and emotional impact as well as logical outcomes, and relate circumstances to metaphors and stories.
The result? Men and women often have a failure to communicate.
We can argue or be self-righteous all day about who offers a better perspective. The truth is, if we are talking to someone who processes information differently than us then we need to alter our style in order to be heard. I continue to learn this lesson as I teach predominantly left-brain men how to be good leaders. Here are some tips I’ve learned to heed:
1. Women like to talk about relationships and feelings. We like to converse about progress and the details that led up to the results. We like the give and take of talk, but we also like our viewpoints to be validated. Men might tolerate this, but they first want to know what the point is of the conversation. They want to know why “what happened before” is important to the result before listening to the stories. They want their viewpoints validated too even if we think they need more information. Therefore,
- Find common ground first. Agree to the headline and the goal of the conversation.
- Respect each others’ viewpoints.
- Don’t keep talking when the other person mentally checks out.
2. Although men use complaining as a way to vent their emotions, women get emotionally hooked by their words. In other words, when a man complains, the woman worries. Therefore, before reacting women should
- Ask what the man needs right now to feel better about the situation.
- Ask if the situation requires any action or if he is just describing an annoyance he has to live with. If he just needs to rant, you have nothing to worry about.
- Ask if he would be open to exploring other perspectives. If he isn’t thrilled by the idea, don’t push it. And don’t try to make him stop expressing himself. Go do something you enjoy doing instead of listening if his words bother you.
3. Women use small talk and personal compliments to bond. In the middle of a conversation, I might compliment a woman on her hair or her purse. This might lead to a conversation about stylists or shopping before getting back to the topic. Men don’t get that this is about bonding.
- Bond with a man by complimenting what he is saying, not what he is wearing. If you can’t compliment his ideas, ask who, what, where, when, and “what else” questions. Deepen the conversation instead of distracting from it.
- Men like personal compliments, too, but not in front of a group and not when it is out of context.
- If giving a personal compliment could imply a hidden agenda, even if you have none, don’t give it. Men aren’t used to compliments so they sometimes assume you want something from it.
There are a lot more tips available all over the Internet. Some are good. Some promote unfair stereotyping. I think the best advice is to try to discover how best we can connect individually and then honor these differences as natural mental habits. Do have any tips to add?