Leadership and the Sexes: 5 Ways Men and Women Communicate Differently

By Melissa Dittmann Tracey

Do you have a female client who’s exceptionally chatty? Or a male client who zones out sometimes? It might be their gender that’s to blame. Men and women have different communication styles that often clash in the business world, according to Michael Gurian and Barbara Annis, authors of Leadership and the Sexes (Jossey-Bass, 2008). The authors set out to move beyond gender stereotypes and point to brain imaging studies that can offer you insight into how you can better communicate, lead, and negotiate with people of the opposite sex, so that gender communication blunders never cost you a deal. BUY THE BOOK


At times, men and women may seem like they really are communicating from two different planets. Why is that? Blood flows differently to varying parts of the brain in males and females, making each gender better at processing certain types of information. The book outlines several of these differences and offers tips to account for these differences and deter misunderstandings.

Here are five differences presented in the book.

1. Women’s brains are always “on.” Females might appreciate this: “There is more neural activity in the female brain at any given time than in the male brain, as evidenced by 15 to 20 percent more blood flow, with more brain centers ‘lit up’ in a scan of a female brain than in one of a male brain,” according to the book. The female brain tends to be more constantly active, while the male brain is prone to “zoning out” or “blanking out” during conversations. To avoid a zone out, men might unconsciously start an activity, such as tapping their pencils, gazing out the window, or swiveling in a chair.

A woman, particularly during negotiations, might perceive this as he isn’t listening or doesn’t care about what you’re saying. But men’s brains are wired to listen differently than women; men often hold less eye contact and have sporadic “zone out” moments, which might require a little repetition to key points.

2. Men just want the facts. Men usually ask fewer questions to stimulate conversation in their work relationships and often end conversations more abruptly than women, the authors write. Men tend to be more data and fact driven and stay on topic, not getting as personal in conversations as women. That’s because men have six times gray matter in their brain that is related to cognition and intelligence than women. Realizing this, women in conversations with male bosses or clients might want to keep their interactions more targeted to the specific outcomes and fact-focused, and ask what he thinks, opposed to what he feels.

3. Women focus on friendship first. Women don’t tend to go into a transaction focused on the final outcome but wanting to build rapport and learn more about the client first. That’s because women have higher levels of a bonding chemical called oxytocin, which makes them to want to spend more time talking about individual emotions and memories than men, according to the book.

“Women tend to build relationships when they sell: their speech is geared toward being inclusive and more relational; they ask more questions, they try to get to know the person on a personal level, and they use tag endings (‘It’s a nice day, isn’t it?’) that compel the other person to communicate back,” the authors write.

Therefore, men wanting to have better conversations with women should try to make an emotional connection – ask how she feels about the home – rather than limiting it just to the facts.

4. Men take it one task at a time. Men tend to like to focus on one task at a time, whereas women’s brains are more geared to multitask. The female brain is wired for constant multiconnecting of information and responds best to talking about emotions, memories, as well as their present task, the authors write.

The male brain, on the other hand, might find all the multiconnecting over stimulating. His brain is wired to focus on what he’s doing now and to get it done. Women have nearly 10 times more white matter in their brain related to cognition and intelligence than men have; the white matter allows them to connect information between different brain processing centers more easily than men.

5. Women remember the little details. Females can generally remember more physical and relational details than men, such as the color of the home, the flowers on display, and the emotional connection or experiences of whom they were speaking to. Females’ hippocampus, a memory center in the brain, has more neural pathways to the emotion and sensory brain centers than men. Therefore, women tend to do better in recalling specific details of situations and events and read gestures and faces better than men.

Knowing this, can be used to your advantage in a negotiation, as the male is more wired to focus on the facts, the female’s strength could be to read the body language and interpret the direction of the negotiation.


“For a few decades now, our corporate world has done a lot of wonderful things in the area of gender roles, but we are also stuck in many ways. We’ve avoided dealing with the lighthouse of gender biology—we’ve been afraid of it—and so we’ve been navigating without its light. In today’s corporate world, power, leadership, control of assets—all are in flux, and economic pressures, globalization, media, the Internet are all affected by gender, even when we don’t realize it. We need to be gender intelligent, even a little bit revolutionary! We need to move beyond both the traditionalist and feminist frameworks and look at the light that human nature itself is providing to all of us, now more than ever before: that light that can help guide every leader to the best possible outcome.”


Michael Gurian is a New York Times bestselling author of more than 20 books, including The Wonder of Boys, Nurture the Nature, and Boys and Girls Learn Differently!. He is the co-founder of the Gurian Institute, which conducts brain-based research and provides education and training on gender issues.

Co-author Barbara Annis is the CEO of Barbara Annis & Associates, a company devoted to gender diversity research, and she has more than 20 years of experience as a specialist in workplace gender issues.

Read The Weekly Book Scan’s author chat with Gurian.

Melissa Tracey

Melissa Dittmann Tracey is a contributing editor for REALTOR® Magazine, writing about home & design trends, technology, and sales and marketing. She manages the magazine's award-winning Styled, Staged & Sold blog.

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  1. It sounds like an interesting read. One thing seems clear about leadership: communication is central. Improving our ability to communicate can only lead to better leadershp, sales, results, etc.

  2. Terrel Shumway

    Is it divided strictly on gender lines? I doubt it.

    I agree that, in general, women are more nurturing, creative, and spiritually connected. In general men work in more concrete terms.

    However, there are enough counter examples to look for other ways to classify personality strengths.

    Mike Ferry, for example uses the labels “Driver”, “Expressive”, “Amiable”, and “Analytical”

    Anciently, these were the called by the elemental labels “Fire” “Air” “Water” “Earth”

    The best system I have seen was created by Jeff Allen and taught at http://mysuccessfullife.com/

    The key point, no matter what system we use, however, is to take the time to be aware of the other person’s individual strengths, quirks, and biases. By being versatile in our communication style, we open up our world and can interact successfully with more people.

  3. Debbie

    They just now figured this out?

  4. Lynn

    Nothing new here!

  5. Mike

    Gays and lesbians make up approximately 10% of the population. Does the book/study address that there may be significance in this regard?