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Author Chat: Michael Gurian on Leadership and the Sexes

By Melissa Dittmann Tracey

Michael Gurian

If you haven’t already, be sure to check out our book review on Leadership and the Sexes. The Weekly Book Scan talked with the book’s author and gender expert Michael Gurian to gain more insights into how the sexes communicate differently.

Do your findings on gender differences among leaders in the workplace apply to other relationships too—such as real estate professionals’ relationships with their customers?

GURIAN: This book is for any male and female interaction at any level. When we looked at the companies that provided quantitative data to us for the book, they were using it at all different levels. It’s not just training CEOs, but they are training everybody to understand the gender differences. There is an immersion in the culture that transfers to a real estate office or even just a single practitioner to get training in it. These are hard-wired gender differences, and understanding men and women better and getting the tools to improve your communication will make you more effective.

Is there a risk that these findings on gender differences can be used as stereotypes in the workplace?

GURIAN: There really needs to be some immersion in it. If the company or individual, does not immerse themselves in understanding it then they will be prone to stereotype. There’s so much popular information out there and you can scan an article and in two minutes and believe you understand men and women. That leads to stereotypes.

Think about marriage: You don’t Google three tips on marriage and assume you’ve got it. It’s ongoing in developing the relationship and you’re constantly gathering data and relational information on each other to do better.

This [gender research] is a million years of human history and brain development. The craft of this book is that it allows for real estate professionals to immerse themselves on how to negotiate and communicate differently, it outlines the sources in the brain, and provides communication tools. It won’t leave you stereotyping, but if you just go to one article, you might.

Learning to become strong negotiators is an important skill for real estate professionals. What are some key ways that men and women negotiate differently?

GURIAN: There are lots of levels to this [NOTE: If you own the book, see Chapter 5 and the communication tools in Chapter 6]. When men and women are in a negotiation, there’s a different biochemistry at work.

When it’s a more intense negotiation, testosterone—an aggression chemical—goes up in men. So we might do knife gestures, pointing the finger at the person or a knife gesture at the contract, or we might interrupt the other person more.

At the very same time that men are getting more aggressive, women want more signals of stable bonding. They may not be paying positive attention to this guy because he seems too aggressive.

So this brain chemistry creates a mismatch in negotiations. When a negotiation falls through, they may not know why a deal went sour. A lot of deals get lost this way.

What can you do to improve your negotiations with the opposite sex then?

GURIAN: If you alter your skill-set you can become better negotiators. In a negotiation, men will realize they need to nod more when women are talking and not squinting or frowning, which can be viewed as aggressive behaviors.

Men need to ask her more questions (such as what did she like about that room?). Men need to realize that sensorial details are really important to her, whereas these sensorial details tend to be of less concern to males.

When testosterone levels go up in a negotiation, men can bring it down by being self-aware of their behavior. They can go back to asking questions and work on building rapport; otherwise they may lose the deal.

On the female side, they might tend to use a lot of words. At a certain point, the male brain will start zoning out. Women can realize this and get back to the facts and data.

By learning the biochemistry, we can adapt to one another. We don’t change ourselves. We can be successful as man or woman and be authentic and develop a skill-set that fits this type of man or woman.

But is there any conformity that needs to take place to become gender-neutral in the workplace?

GURIAN: It’s about balance. Through understanding, we can view these brain scans and we can gain balance by understanding the differences. We can then develop new skill-sets and tools to deal with the differences. The book is divided into these areas.

We can key into the main differences we face and create applications that fit individuals and our teams. First, we understand men and women like never before, such as with conflict resolution and negotiation. We then can start applying this into all of our relationships.

The ultimate goal is balance and trying to get everyone working together on male and female teams. One way to balance it is to create these male-female teams. It’s very simple. By putting the two together, you get the advantage. For example, in a negotiation, it would be good to have a male and woman negotiation team on your side. Women pick up more facial cues.

In your book, you reference gender-balanced meetings. What are a gender-balanced meetings and what are a few ways leaders can make their meetings more gender-balanced?

GURIAN: You have a male leader of 10 people but you only hear from three people at the meeting and those are three guys. Why do we hear from them? Their testosterone goes up and they become more aggressive. This could be true for a male or female leader. But then you have seven people you did not hear from. That’s an imbalanced meeting.

If a female is leading a meeting, she may talk a lot and use all words without any graphics or charts. She probably lost the two or three males in the room. They aren’t “word” people. That’s imbalance.

The men may be tapping their pencils or their eyes glazing over. The woman doesn’t understand that and gets offended. She doesn’t realize that men are going into rest state – we have brain scans in the book that show male’s rest state. The female brain doesn’t do that, though.

So the meeting then becomes a conflict because she feels she isn’t being treated very well.

Meetings are a crucible of difference. In a gender-balanced meeting, everyone understands each other. The female leader brings in more graphics and those guys who zone out are allowed to move around and keep their brains alive. And the male leader will not allow others to keep interrupting women when they are trying to talk. This all helps to create more balance.

Do personality conflicts in the workplace often stem from gender misunderstandings then?

GURIAN: Some of it is just personality conflict or personality frictions. Personality is hard-wired, just like gender is. Everyone brings those in and some may be an extrovert or an introvert and the conflict may not relate to gender at all. A lot of personality conflicts deal with projection. A person is working with someone else and is projecting onto that person because that person may remind them of a person they were hurt by. But yes, some grow from these gender differences.

How can this apply to mentoring relationships in the workplace?

GURIAN: It’s best to have men and women mentors in the workplace—men mentoring women; and women mentoring men. We really want same sex and cross mentoring. One reason is that men tend to mentor toward promotion and hierarchy climbing, whereas women’s mentoring tends to be more psychosocial. Women read signals of other people better so they might get better results by teaching how individual relationships interact better to have more success. Men, on the other hand, mentor to climb to the top of the company and women need that kind of mentoring too. So we train people that good mentoring systems include both men and women.

What prompted you to explore this topic in a book and training manuals for companies?

GURIAN: In 1983 in graduate school, we were being taught about gender roles. While it was valuable, we didn’t look at natural differences between men and women. I lived in many different cultures as a child and in every culture I noticed that boys and girls had certain characteristics and it didn’t matter the culture they were from. With gender roles, society decides that. But I wanted to explore what goes on under the surface.

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