We always say that men are uncomfortable with emotions. But what does that really mean? What do they consider to be part of the “emotional” realm? It can’t be that men have no emotions. Rather, men display emotion differently than women. Biological architecture of male brains enables them to experience the four basic emotions – sadness, happiness, anger, and fear – as well as different displays of emotion that stem from the right side of the brain. However, the lack of connectors between the 2 brain hemispheres causes the left side – responsible for speech, expression, logical analysis – to “shut down” or be put on pause until the “emotion” has passed. This explains the difficulty men have in verbalizing their feelings.
It also gives us a tremendous clue to men’s perception of “emotions” at work. The term “emotions” generally conjures up a woman in tears pulling tissues out of a box on the desk. Women in the workplace have long learned to stuff those demonstrations if possible, to keep from appearing weak or ineffectual. But as the recent TV drama “Lie To Me” taught us, tiny changes in facial expression can give away our emotional reaction even when we try hard not to let it show.
If men and women both FEEL emotions, what is it that women DO to demonstrate an “emotional state” to men? In my survey of 3000 men, becoming inappropriately “emotional” includes many more situations than crying. Among the top mentioned activities are:
- Becoming Tearful – this is the most stereotypical and blatantly obvious sign of emotion.
- Getting Upset or Defensive Too Easily – A parallel to crying, this is not just defending your position, but has been described as an emotional reaction in a person on the verge of walking out. It is void of reason.
- Overreacting – Blowing a situation out of proportion, or spending too much time on unimportant issues.
- Jumping to Conclusions – using knee-jerk reactions rather than logic to make decisions.
- Holding Strong Opinions/ Refusing to be Swayed – Pushing back in a way that is seen as “unable to let it go” and unable to defer or trust the decisions of the boss or team.
- Personality Conflicts – Conflict between co-workers that cause a manager’s time to resolve.
- Anything They Don’t Understand – The random or “Mysterious” attributes of women that are not perceived as linked to any logical situation.
The problem with all of the emotional demonstrations is the perceived separation between emotion and logic. Because men process right-brained emotion before resuming their left-brain activities, they assume that women do as well. However, because women have more “connectors” between the 2 hemispheres, they are more able to process emotion and a logical problem at the same time.
During heated situations, knowing the reasons behind men’s assumptions of women creates power. The understanding of innate anatomy and of specific threads of thought allows women to make choices to alter emotional demonstrations, and/or educate the men they are working with on the unique ability for women to process emotion AND think clearly simultaneously.