Is there a gender gap? Do men and women think and communicate differently? And, if so, do they tend to negotiate in different ways?
From a physiological perspective, the data supports such differences. Brain scans show that the female brain processes language on both the right (intuitive/creative) and left (logical/analytic) hemispheres of the brain while the male brain processes language only on the analytic side. The female brain’s centers for language and hearing have 11 percent more neurons; and the female hippocampus—the principal seat of emotion and memory, as well as the circuitry for observing emotion in others—is generally larger than in males.
Neuropsychologist Louann Brizendine’s book The Female Brain documents these phenomena. Brizendine argues that brain structure and chemistry give women an edge over men in verbal skills, connection, the capacity to read faces and tones of voice for emotions, and the ability to defuse conflict. If women are generally better at listening and empathy, we have to question whether it’s a fluke or biology that most human resource professionals are women.
In general, I’ve observed that men and women handle emotions differently as well. This supports Brizendine’s thesis about the hormonal differences between the sexes. She contends that a typical male responds to emotions with a rational mind and with avoidance. A female on the other hand, tends to be in close touch with her feelings and is more willing to express her emotions. Hormones may also play a role in deciding when to negotiate.
According to Brizendine, men and women also process anger differently: the amygdala—the center of anger and aggression—is usually larger in men than in women. But the center for control of aggression and anger—the prefrontal cortex—is typically larger in women. Finally, because of testosterone, men are generally more prone to aggression than women.
Though girls and boys start using language differently from a very young age—girls use more collaborative phrases; boys use commands, ignore others’ suggestions, and override others’ attempts to speak—biology alone doesn’t end the debate when it comes to the gender gap.