Originally published on Advisor Perspectives, October 9, 2018
Like the rest of America, I was riveted by the confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh. The differences in the demeanor between Judge Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford was striking. Underlying those differences are gender-based traits that have far-reaching implications for advisors.
She was humble, deferential and calm. He was highly assertive, angry and, at times, openly confrontational with those questioning him.
The book, Brain Rules, by John Medina, is helpful in understanding the difference in their conduct.
Medina has stellar credentials. He is a developmental molecular biologist and research consultant, and an affiliate professor of bioengineering at the University of Washington School of Medicine. He was the founding director of two brain institutes.
His findings have broad ramifications for investment advisors.
Medina sets forth these differences in the brains of men and women:
- Women have two X chromosomes (one of which acts as a back-up). Men have one. X chromosomes are “cognitive hot spots.”
- Women are “genetically more complex”.
- The brains of men and women are different “structurally and biochemically,” but the significance of those differences is unknown.
Ramification of these differences
Medina notes the peril of attributing those differences to gender-specific behaviors, noting: “I didn’t want to write about this.”
Neither did I, but you should be aware of his findings.
The ability to communicate effectively with both genders is critical to your success as an advisor. I will limit my discussion to Medina’s findings you might find helpful and avoid those (like “mental retardation is more common in males than females in the general population”) that aren’t.
- Women tend to recall “emotional biographical events” (a vacation, a first date) more vividly than men
- Women are generally better at communicating than men. Medina theorizes this may be because women have thick cables connecting the two hemispheres of their brains, while men’s are thinner. As a consequence, women are better at verbal memory, fluency tasks and speed of articulation.
- Young girls “use their sophisticated verbal talents to cement their relationships,” facing each other directly and maintaining eye contact. In contrast, he states, “boys never do this.”
- Boys tend to be hierarchical and territorial. Girls tend “not to give top down imperial orders.”
These differences can lead to very different – and discriminatory – perceptions of similar behavior by men and women. An assertive woman can be characterized as “bossy and aggressive,” he writes. The same conduct by a man may be praised as “decisive and assertive.”
Misinterpretation of the data
Women are justifiably offended when men characterize them as “emotional.” They correctly perceive this observation as dismissive and patronizing.
Medina explains that women may not be more emotional than men. The behavior of some women may be explained by the fact that they “perceive their emotional landscape with more data points…and see it in greater resolution…”
Women may simply be reacting to more information. If men had the same information, their reaction would likely be similar.
When dealing with a couple, or with a man or a woman individually, recognizing these differences is critically important.
Men and women may place importance on different aspects of retirement planning. It would be important to determine the views of both parties in a couples setting. This can be done easily by asking this question of each person: “Do you agree?”
Don’t assume men and women feel the same about any issue relating to their financial lives.
While no one likes to be lectured to or “educated,” be particularly sensitive about engaging in this behavior with women. They are unlikely to respond well.
You may experience other lessons from Medina’s findings. If you do, please give me feedback and tell me how you used these lessons to communicate better.