Why Men Are Great Listeners - Gender Matters

Tony Hughes

Why Men Are Great Listeners - Gender Matters

Men are brilliant listeners - if they think there is the slightest chance of money or sex at the end of the conversation. Seriously, gender differences are real and the greatest disservice done to the advancement of women during the women's liberation movement was the notion that men and women are the same. Women and men are of equal value but there are real variances beyond the obvious physical characteristics - the brains of men and women are radically different and so is their brain chemistry. Diversity in any team is essential for success - cultural, personality and gender. The strengths of both women and men should be harnessed by valuing difference when building balanced teams; this is how to avoid blind-spots and ensure we relate to everyone on the other side when we sell or negotiate.

Self-management is essential for success, and communication skills are the foundation on which influence is built. Whether you're in sales, support, service, management or leadership; understanding yourself and others is prerequisite in any leadership role. Here are some interesting facts about gender difference, and then some recommendations for both men and women in the workplace. None of this is politically correct, but maybe I can get away with these comments in the USA because I'm from Australia.

Firstly, men have larger brains than women but size plays no role in human intelligence. This is despite some men proclaiming that a bigger head and brain makes them smarter. A women once said to me in a course I was running: "It just shows that men have thick skulls or fat heads - either way it obviously makes it more difficult for them to hear." There was lots of laughter in the room, especially from me.

Male and female brains are physiologically different, evidenced by the fact that the female brain has 40% more connectivity between the hemispheres (corpus callosum). In computer speak, this faster bus speed between the two CPUs helps account for the way the female brain can multi-task so well. Another important factor influencing gender difference in communication is that the centers for key brain functions occur in different regions within women and men. These diagrams below are simplistic but paint the picture.



Note that the adult male brain is less connected for words with emotion. Note that the adult female brain has words being generated in multiple areas on both sides of the brain, and that words are well connected with emotion. On average in a day, a women speaks almost three times more than a man, but the volume of words does not necessarily equate to more effective communication.

In addition to 'brain wiring', gender chemicals also play a significant role in how men and women think and act. Testosterone, for example, produces competitiveness and aggression, while oestrogen and progesterone create feelings of well-being and calm. Testosterone levels are up to 20 times higher in men than in women. Testosterone is literally a mind-altering anabolic steroid, creating competitive aggression. The male brain is wired for focus and men generally possess the following comparative traits:

  • Stronger spatial ability (map reading, mazes, etc.)
  • Poorer peripheral vision than women
  • Less receptive to non-verbal communication
  • Independent, self-reliant, competitive and focused
  • Focused on things and theories
  • Seek power and dominance
  • Less equipped to explore and express feelings

Doctors Anne Moir and David Jessel were pioneers in the field of gender brain science and documented ground breaking research in their book, BrainSex. Much has been been built on their work over the years and here is some of their commentary on men. In most of the key senses, he hears and feels less. He is more single-minded because his brain is more compartmentalized. He does not notice distractions (page 101). By contrast the bias of the adult male brain expresses itself in high motivation, competition, single-mindedness, risk-taking, aggression, preoccupation with dominance, hierarchy, and the politics of power, the constant measurement and comparison of success itself (page 159).

The female brain has significantly greater connectivity across the two hemispheres to support 'multi-processing' of the higher order functions. Women typically possess:

  • Stronger verbal ability
  • Superior peripheral vision (literally more connector rods in their eyes)
  • See, hear and feel (tactile sensitivity) more than men
  • Greater sensitivity to non-verbal cues
  • Better memory for faces
  • Natural desire to focus on people and relationships (socially interdependent)
  • Stronger natural awareness of ethics

Here is some of the BrainSex commentary on men by Doctors Anne Moir and David Jessel. [Female] superiority, in so many of the senses, can be clinically measured... it is what accounts for women's almost supernatural 'intuition'. Women are simply better equipped to notice things to which men are comparatively blind and deaf (page 19). [A woman] sees more, and remembers, in detail, more of what she sees... she is better at imparting, and receiving, the social cues of body language... she has a better memory for faces and characters. She understands, better than a man, what a person means, even if that person is apparently saying nothing. That's because her brain is specialized for this very function... the right hemisphere of her brain that controls the emotions is better connected to the left side of the brain that controls verbal expression than it is in men. The intuitive, if you like, is more in touch with the communicative skills (page100).

So imagine if you could create a hybrid male/female brain... Angelina Jolie meets Sylvester Stallone... scrub that thought, too disturbing. It's impossible anyway because the female chemicals of oestrogen and progesterone combat and largely neutralise testosterone. But you can assemble teams with balance and finesse. Every corporate board, every leadership team, every sales organization should be comprised of men and women. The very best leaders value and harness difference in the pursuit of common goals through cohesive values.

Here are my suggestions for any man in business if he wants to overcome weaknesses naturally inherent in their brain wiring and brain chemistry:

  • Seek to develop awareness of non-verbal communication cues
  • Recognize and value the differences and strengths that women bring to any business situation
  • Learn to communicate your feelings as well as your thoughts
  • Develop relationships in the workplace of genuine friendship, and without any ulterior motives

And here are my suggestions for any women in business who also seeks to excel in the world of business, politics or community service.

  • Provide context before detail
  • Start at the end, lead with 'why it's important'
  • Be focused and outcomes driven
  • Prioritize issues and actions
  • Dress for business and do not distract with jewellery, cleavage or hem-line
  • Consider lowering tone of voice (if necessary)

For women, it's about how you lead, not about how you look. By all means use your femininity but never allow sexuality to be a factor... you're better than that. One of the best sales managers I reported to in the early years of my sales career was a woman. She was very tough, more so than any man I've worked for, but genuinely cared about everyone in her team. She didn't accept crap from anyone - her employees, her boss or her peers. She was strong and confident and I once witnessed a senior executive from one of our resellers make an inappropriate comment to her. It was misogynist bullying but she didn't take the bait. I asked her about it afterward and she smiled as she said, "Women should never lower themselves to the standards of men." Touché.

If you're engaged in M&A due diligence or a negotiation or a sales presentation; always have a balanced team on your side. Women naturally read what's really going on between the lines, between the glances, and the body language; far better than men. Women are better naturally wired for morality and communication. In this regard, the best leader for the job is probably a woman, but only if she is qualified, goal-driven and focused.

Before I share the last interesting fact, I will tell you another story. I once asked a friend of mine how he and his wife were going. He answered with: "Don't know. I haven't spoken to her for 3 days." I was concerned: "Did you have a bad argument - is your marriage okay?" He responded laconically: "Everything is fine - I just didn't want to interrupt." The story is not true but the fact is that on average women speak 20,000 words a day and men only 7,000. They talk things through and listening is a skill we all (male and female) need to develop in our personal lives, business and professional selling - practice active listening in everything you do by taking a genuine interest in others.


Tony Hughes is ranked as the #1 influencer on professional selling in Asia-Pacific and is a keynote speaker and best selling author. This article was originally published in LinkedIn where you can also follow Tony's award winning blog. Also visit Tony's keynote speaker website at www.TonyHughes.com.au or his sales methodology website at http://www.rsvpselling.com/.

Main image photo by Flickr: Craig Sunter


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