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I’ve held forth on the “foundational” difference between Max and Fran (my prototypes for masculine and feminine ways of thinking and acting). And I’ve noted there are three key drivers of differences in their behavior at work. The first driver we explored is how they think. The second is what “relationship” means to each. This driver influences how Max and Fran view business relationships, how they structure things, how they influence, how they talk and how they handle conflict (all of which I’ll explore in future posts).

There are roots of this driver in nature and nurture. The male brain has one center for language on one hemisphere and one for feelings on the other; the female brain has multiple centers for both—and they occur on both hemispheres. It is easier for Fran to talk about her feelings than Max. And she does! The very currency of friendships among women, according to experts, is intimate talk. Linguist Deborah Tannen says men tend to use “report talk” while women use more “rapport talk.” Fran secretes more of the bonding hormone, oxytocin. Levels of oxytocin are high when girls and women engage in girlfriend talk. Max’s talk with his buddies is less intimate and he is more concerned with competing with his friends (linked with his higher levels of testosterone) than with developing “closeness.”

Relationships with people with whom you share intimate secrets are not better or worse than relationships with those with whom you talk more about impersonal things; but they are different. And Fran is wired to have more of the former kind of relationship.

Under stress, Max secretes testosterone, which triggers the fight or flight response. Under stress, Fran may secrete the bonding hormone oxytocin! A well-known study conducted at UCLA concludes that this hormone “buffers” the fight or flight response and causes women to look out for their children and to “gather with other women”—the “tend or befriend” response. Fran tends to be smaller and physically weaker than Max; she can compensate for lack of strength with numbers! And, several studies show, close friendships can improve health and longevity.

All this goes on below our conscious level. Fran may be unaware of the surge of oxytocin, the “tend or befriend” response and the impact of friendship on health. But at this level, relationships are a matter of survival—and they simply mean something different to her than they do to Max.

Here is a summary of What Relationships Mean on the masculine vs. feminine sides of the masculine-feminine continuum:

 

MAX – CASUAL

FRAN – INTIMATE

Talks more about things with friends; rarely shares about feelings Shares secrets, feelings, intimacies with friends
Bonds through competition Bonds through talking
Another man is either “on his team” or an opportunity to compete Another woman is someone to bond with
Relationship is either “one up” or “one down” Relationship is of equals
Having friends is nice but not life-sustaining Having friends improves health and happiness
“Survival” depends on me “Survival” depends on my circle of friends

Have you seen these differences?  Share your stories or examples in a comment!