If you like to watch fireworks, just bring up the subject of gender differences at your next friendly neighborhood cookout. Chances are the grill won’t be the only thing on fire.
The moment you take an absolutist stand on gender differences, you find yourself in a proverbial gender La Brea Tar Pit. Every individual — man or woman — has unique education backgrounds, experiences and frames of reference. (Please keep that in mind before you send me irate emails.) That said, there is real science behind the differences between men and women when it comes to decision-making and persuasion. Consider these findings:
Men often overstate their abilities; women understate them.
“In studies, men overestimate their abilities and performance, and women underestimate both. Their performances do not differ in quality,” wrote Katty Kay and Claire Shipman in a lengthy article for The Atlantic magazine’s website in 2014. The authors of Womenomics and authorities on gender differences in business found that women working at Hewlett-Packard applied for a promotion only when they believed they met 100 percent of the job qualifications. On the other hand, men were happy to apply when they thought they could meet 60 percent of the job requirements.
Bottom line: Persuasion is about taking risk. You can’t get the job if you don’t apply.
A four-letter word for men: help.
In her book, Why She Buys: The New Strategy for Reaching the World’s Most Powerful Consumers, gender expert Bridget Brennan claims women love asking for and receiving help. For men, “help” is a four-letter word.
Bottom line: When persuading women, offer assistance in some form. This gender preference will do wonders for you and your persuasion priority. If you’re persuading men, try something like this: “I did find a report that talks about what you were researching. I’ll leave it here.”
Men buy, women shop.
Shopping behavior mirrors gender differences throughout many aspects of life. Women consider shopping an interpersonal activity, according to Wharton marketing professor Stephen J. Hoch. Men treat is as something that must be done.
Bottom line: Pair this idea with personality behaviors to give you strong indications of how fast or slow you should move with your request.
Perfectionism is a confidence killer.
“Women feel confident only when they are perfect,” Kay and Shipman wrote for The Atlantic. “Study after study confirms that [this] is largely a female issue, one that extends through women’s entire lives. We don’t answer questions until we are totally sure of the answer, we don’t submit a report until we’ve edited it ad nauseam, and we don’t sign up for that triathlon unless we know we are faster and fitter than is required. We watch our male colleagues take risks, while we hold back until we’re sure we are perfectly ready and perfectly qualified.”
Bottom line: No one needs to be at 100 percent all the time. In fact, few are. Leverage that reality in your persuasion efforts.
Gender behavior is based on brain structure and body chemistry.
In 2007, neuropsychiatrist Louann Brizendine released The Female Brain, a book that generated major debate by claiming that women’s brains “are so deeply affected by hormones that their influence can be said to create a woman’s reality. They can shape a woman’s values and desires, and tell her, day to day, what’s important.” Brizendine then released The Male Brain in 2010, in which she states that “a man will use his analytical brain structures, not his emotional ones, to find a solution.” She also notes that the male brain thrives on competition and is obsessed with rank and hierarchy.
Bottom Line: Differences in estrogen, testosterone and oxytocin affect moods, behaviors and decisions. Everything is situational, especially this guidance. Identify the mercurial targets from the more static and approach accordingly.
Gender behavior changes with age.
As men and women age, testosterone and estrogen levels decrease, respectively. This results in women becoming more assertive and men more accommodating.
Bottom line: Take into consideration the age of your target.
Women don’t ask.
While researching their book Women Don’t Ask: The High Cost of Avoiding Negotiation — and Positive Strategies for Change, economics professor and negotiation specialist Linda Babcock and co-author Sara Laschever found that only about 7 percent of female MBAs attempted to negotiate their salaries when hired, compared to 57 percent of men. Those who did negotiate increased their salary by more than 7 percent.
Bottom line: You’ll never get the promotion, the assignment, the budget or the career you want if you don’t ask. The worst thing your target can say is no.
Women make great personal evangelists.
Women focus on details, researchers say, and are more likely than men to talk to their colleagues about their experiences with you.
Bottom line: If you want personal evangelists — people willing to sing your praises — identify women with whom you’ve exceeded their expectations.
Men decide; women ruminate.
Scientists Colin Camerer and Read Montague imaged the brains of men and women to determine the neural roots of fidelity and betrayal. After making a decision, the male brain turned off. Female brains, however, continued to display activity in parts that regulate worry and error-detection.
Bottom line: When she says, “I’ll have to think about it,” that doesn’t mean “no.” It usually means she actually does need to think about it.
Here are more gender differences to keep in mind:
- Women are better at negotiating for a group.
- Men are better at negotiating for themselves.
- Women tend to avoid conflict situations.
- Men tend to avoid emotional scenes.
- Women respond more to stories than facts.
- Women have better peripheral vision and will notice that family photo on your desk.
Some women — and men — might be highly offended right now and argue against any generalizations like the ones listed above. Others may be nodding in agreement. Regardless, keeping these ideas in mind will help you stay out of the muck as you seek to achieve your persuasion priority.