How Brain Gender Affects Coaching

By Robert Holmes | coaching

Jan 21

Have you ever observed that one client appears to be very responsive to your coaching, and another is very reserved? They both get great outcomes, but one of them comes across as kind of resistant. It surprises you when, after the coaching, they say how profound it was – yet you never saw that reflected in their conduct at the time. You are probably engaging a person with an M-brain – a male defined neuronal structure. It is profoundly altering their experience of coaching – and your experience of them!

Thirty years of research across two continents has finally settled it. Drs Anne Moir and Louann Brizendine have spent 30 years researching the differences between men and women, publishing their results in “Brainsex” and “The Male Brain” respectively. Biological sex (male/female) is combined with mental gender (M-brain/F-brain) to create a spectrum of clients who all respond to coaching differently. Men and women are genetically different. In every cell: women have two X chromosomes and men have an X and a Y. That second X gives a woman’s eyes ten times the observable colours. Her skin is ten times as sensitive. Through every phase of life the male experience and perception, processing of information and emotional journey is fundamentally different from the female.

Beyond biology, the neurochemistry is a second layer that alters reality. In week 8 and week 26 the foetus is soaked either in oestrogen & progesterone or it is soaked in testosterone, MIS & DHEA. This deeply alters the brain structure and circuitry of the child, according to the amount and length of exposure. This is especially true for the male brain, which is flooded with testosterone regularly. The human brain changes structurally, chemically and logically all the way through life. It is “plastic”: contouring, forming and reworking itself.

An M-brain is very goal directed, hierarchy aware, less emotional, single minded, drives physical response more rapidly, can think in three dimensions with ease, uses fewer words, looks for actions and outcomes and doesn’t do empathy well. An F-brain is a very relationship oriented, group aware, emotional, multi-minded, drives cognitive response more rapidly, can think in networks with ease, uses more words, looks for connection and does empathy well.

Alan and Barbara Pease published a very helpful piece of research around brain gender and sexual orientation in “Why Men Don’t Listen and Women Can’t Read Maps.” Their research created a spectrum from female gender, female brain (on the far left) through to male gender male brain (on the far right). There are women on the scale from 180-165 who have an M-brain and there are men on the scale from 165-150 who have an F-brain.

M-brain and F-brain differ in at least 20 ways (cell biology, neuro-receptor response, blood behaviour, muscle development, neurochemistry etc.). Let’s take a walk through just six that profoundly affect relationship coaching, with my best coaching tips in italics:

1. Linguistics

X-Y chromosome males do not have an area in their brains specifically dedicated to speech. They have physically more restricted hearing, blocking out higher tonality. A coach may need to get him to look at you before you communicate. Point to a diagram, direct attention throughout the session.

X-X chromosome females have a specific area in the left front hemisphere and mid right hemisphere that is dedicated to speech. They also have wider field of hearing, and greater pitch detection. 90% of PA and EA positions are staffed by women. You may naturally find them more attentionally engaged, but check they understand the content.

2. Verbiage

Without the linguistics area, M-brain is less inclined to learn a deep and rich vocabulary. The average M-brain keeps a database of 35,000 words, and uses a meagre 2-3,000 words per day. Once they are used, there is no motivation to keep communicating. Consider booking M-brain clients in the morning before their words are used up!

F-brain stores an average of 50,000 words, and employs 5,500-8,500 words per day (plus extensive non-verbal and sign queues as well)! Use verbal mirroring by using their words and language to build rapport with them.

3. Visual perception

Vasopressin primes M-brain to perceive things negatively – boredom will be read as anger, hostility or offishness and will respond accordingly. The M-brain client may spark more easily or jump to conclusions. Stay focussed, present, attentive and engaged with your M-brain client. Explain your behaviour if the client mis-reads you.

Oxytocin primes F-brain to perceive things positively – boredom will be read as listening, care or passiveness. The F-brain believes, rightly or wrongly, that you are interested, even when you are not. Check your conclusions with the client out loud.

4. Emotion and problem solving

When M-brain is faced with a problem or distress the mirror neuron system (MNS) activates to acquire and recognise the target. The temporal parietal junction (TPJ) then activates the cognitive emotional centre to fix the problem. Testosterone and vasopressin switch off facial muscular response so as to show no weakness. If you pose your M-brain client with a problem they will appear to switch off – but they are coming up with a solution.

When F-brain is faced with a similar issue the MNS switches on and stays on – emoting, empathising and remaining connected. Oestrogen and oxytocin then switches on facial response system – magnifying and mirroring what is being observed in others. This is perceived as highly engaged. Your F-brain client may simply want to be heard, and understood, not solved or fixed.

5. Social symmetry

M-brain is cognitively aware of social standing, hierarchy and position in the pack. It tracks and finds the alpha position and then decides to fight, submit or flee to that person. Check your position in relation to your client. You should be at least socially equal to your client, and not in a sub-ordinate position, or they will not listen to you.

F-brain is not consciously aware of the concept of hierarchy or alpha. It tracks social connection and group belonging. Your F-brain client needs to feel they belong in this relationship, that it is not cold. Rapport building is imperative.

6. Fear

M-brain registers fear more strongly in the brain stem and amygdala. Fight, flight or freeze are more palpable. Under threat the amygdala takes over the decision making process. It will respond more biologically – rapidly. Remove overt threat and use confrontation (and why questions) sparingly.

F-brain registers fear more like general anxiety, allowing continued self control with the higher function frontal lobes (cognitive decision making). Avoid overwhelming the client with a bombardment of questions. The amygdala becomes flooded and decision making stalls. Hysteria, distraction and overwhelm strategies follow.

Summary

Men and women have different physiology, different cellular genetics and as they are formed in the womb, each is given a gestation bath of chemicals to androgenise (M-brain) or estrogenise (F-brain) the baby. As a result there is a spectrum of physically female, F-brain through to physically male, M-brain clients. Each is experiencing life very differently. Coaching should understand these nuances, in order to work with the individual more effectively.

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About the Author

Robert is an expert in the science of human behaviour and performance enhancement with a passion for neurology, leadership and the psychology of potential. He believes it is important to bring hard science to coaching, and that coaching practices be evidence based and research backed. Robert is a founding partner at Frazer, Holmes Coaching and current Director of Brand and Marketing for the International Coach Federation Australasia (ICFA). Robert is a professionally certified coach (PCC) with over 20 years of business experience and an ICF Accredited Mentor Coach. He is an Associate at the National Speaker's Association, a member of the Coaching Psychology interest group at the APS, a certified Action Learning Coach, a Member of the Australian Institute of Management Consultants.