I bought Michael Gurian’s book What Could He Be Thinking? about three years ago as per the recommendation of another coach. It sat on the bookshelf until I moved offices recently, when I took notice of it again. Part of what prompted me to open the book was a YouTube video by Mark Gungor called “Men’s brains versus Women’s brains,” which I had previously posted on my husband’s Facebook page. It was spot on. So I decided I needed to start reading the book. The book is aimed at women who are married to men, but the insights in the book have a lot of value for women who work with, live with and parent men. Well, I have men in all three categories in my life and the information is pretty useful.
I realized that my expectation is that the men in my life should be just like me. They should be able to express their feelings, empathize with my feelings and, most importantly, be able to understand me. Well, as my husband has pointed out since I posted that YouTube video on his Facebook wall, my brain is all over the place. His brain, on the other hand, is as Gungor describes it is: singularly focused in one box or compartment (one box for football, one box for finances, one box for fishing, etc.). I had no idea. But then I realized that he can be focused playing Solitaire for hours. And I mean hours. I don’t have the patience for that. But understanding that point is really critical, as well as some of the other important revelations I learned from the book.
So here is how to work with the male brain:
- Get in front of him. As Grace Cooley wrote for the elephant journal, “Get in the Same Zip Code. The reason he doesn’t respond to you sometimes? Because you haven’t gotten his attention, so that he can switch “boxes” in his brain. He is not ignoring you. The way his brain works makes that impossible.” So this is why when I yell from the kitchen, “Breakfast!”, he does not respond. Since reading the book, I’ve made a conscious effort to either wait to ask a question, or physically get in the same room. I have to say I am not as frustrated now. Instead of feeling as if he’s chosen to ignore me, I am making an effort to connect better. When possible, try getting into the same zip code.
- Let him do. Gurian points out what is “especially confounding to many women is a man’s deep-seated need to be trusted for what he does, not for everything he does or does not say.” This just happened to me today with my husband. We were splitting a pizza for lunch and he brought over one of the last two pieces. My immediate response was, “I’m not eating that.” What he was doing was being generous and my assumption was that he thought I was still hungry and wanted to overeat. Like he was fattening me up for Thanksgiving. All I had to say was, “No thank you.”
- Do not give advice unless it is requested. I have been burned by doing this with my son, male co-workers and my husband. If they haven’t asked how to install a mail box, then, by God, don’t tell your former contractor “MacGyver” husband how to install a mail box. I swear I did this a few months ago. Like I know how to install a mail box and he doesn’t. I’ve tried to tell my son what to do with parking tickets and job hunting. You can imagine how it all went over. Resistance and resentment ensues.
- Be comfortable with silence. I have learned this when I am coaching or facilitating. I ask a question and count to 10. It seems like an eternity, but it gives my clients the space to think and respond. However, when it comes to talking with my husband or son, I have no such patience. I want to fill the space with all my wonderful ideas. When I am with my female friends, we will interrupt each other, never take a breath and rarely feel put out. The male brain needs to be in the right box before being able to respond.
- Try to stay focused. As Gungor says in the video about women’s brains, “Women’s brains are a ball of wire and everything is connected to everything.” My husband has looked at me smiling and said, “I need some wire cutters.” This is in response to me bringing up the dinner menu, then immediately switching to discussing an email from a colleague, to “Do you think we should close that account?” I am constantly guilty of what we like to call in my family “improper segues.” I go from Alaska to the moon to 7000 leagues under the sea in a matter of two minutes. I am so jealous of men’s ability to focus. I’m not saying that there are men who don’t focus and there are women who do or don’t. It’s just the way the brains of most men and women are built. I, as a woman, can easily get unfocused.
- Make appointments. My son will rarely answer his phone. He wants an appointed time to talk. My husband and I had a conflict a few months ago and he said, “We are talking about this Sunday morning.” This is critical if it is regarding a conflict. As Cooley wrote, “Men need to be able to switch into the appropriate box or compartment in their brains. Be kind and give him a chance to do that. Let him know ahead of time what you want to talk about and set an appointment. Put it on his calendar.” The result from our Sunday morning appointment was a revelation for our relationship. He had the opportunity to think though his side of the conversation and so did I. If it’s emotionally charged, be sure and make an appointment.
Gurian makes the case for the differences based on the way most male brains function versus most female brains. The main premise is that connecting the right and left hemispheres of our brains is a small bundle of nerves called the corpus callosum. This allows the two sides to talk. In men, the corpus callosum is, on average, 25 percent smaller than women. There are exceptions in both sexes but think about that when you are having a conflict or misunderstanding with the opposite sex. They are wired differently. It’s time to adapt.