The Science of Conflict Management- 7 Gender Stereotypes

The Case for Gender in the Science of Conflict Management

When workplace relationships suffer and you cringe thinking about the drive to work for the day, so does the bottom line. More importantly, your sense of self is overtaken by ugly feelings of contempt, resentment and loss. It is in this state it is important to recognize how the science of conflict management offers hope for a different state in the future.

There have been many discussions recently about gender in the workplace. What does gender mean in 2018? The reality is, regardless of our beliefs about the gender discussion, it is time to look deeper into how men and women are wired differently, and similarly, for managing conflict.

Introduction

In this post about the science of conflict management, we will explore seven common stereotypes about gender, regardless of our belief system about the emergent trends with gender in recent years. Bottom line, in order to advance our workplace culture, we need to let go of these common stereotypes about men and women in 2018.

The following explanations of seven common stereotypes include my own experiences, learnings, and research about the topic as it relates to the science of conflict management.

Stereotypes about Men:

“Men don’t listen.”

How many times have you seen or heard this message on popular television shows and movies? To begin this post on a light note, I remember getting ready to sit in front of our television to watch the crazy and oh so funny antics of Jack, Janet and Chrissy on Three’s Company (1976-1984) when I was a kid. Jack constantly goofed up with misinterpreted messages because he was not listening when Janet and Chrissy told him something.

Although, looking back, I see the comedic and downright adorable antics of Jack Tripper, the reality is it was all nothing more for me than half an hour of a few good laughs at silliness. The reality of today is we still hear this message in popular media and sometimes at work.

Communication is a behaviour shaped through socialization. The science of conflict management begins to engage when we start to focus on the micro skills of communication. In these times we begin to see how lumping communication in with gender is not only inappropriate, but also very harmful to our learning about how to relate to one another and create meaning in our relationships.

It’s time to liberate ourselves and be real about how we are going to let go of this stereotype.

“Men aren’t in touch with their feelings.”

The older I get, the more ridiculous this stereotype is. I remember the feelings, love and emotion my dad freely expressed. Feelings are normal, we all have them.

As a mammal, we are hardwired from our primitive brain with emotion. It is through time our brains have developed more complex systems for thinking and communicating our feelings.

Daniel Goleman, leading expert about emotional intelligence has researched our brains for decades and this is how he explains our connection to feelings:

“Lower in the brain, below the limbic areas, lies a neural network called the basal ganglia. This is a very primitive part of the brain, but it does something extraordinarily important for navigating the modern world. As we go through every situation in life, the basal ganglia extracts decision rules: when I did that, that worked well; when I said this, it bombed, and so on. Our accumulated life wisdom is stored in this primitive circuitry. However, when we face a decision, it’s our verbal cortex that generates our thoughts about it. But to more fully access our life experiences on the matter at hand, we need to access further inputs from that subcortical circuitry [where our basal ganglia lies]. While the basal ganglia may have some connection to the verbal areas, it turns out to have very rich connections to our gastrointestinal tract–the gut. So in making [a] decision, a gut sense of it being right or wrong is important information, too.”

(The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New Insights eBook: Daniel Goleman: Amazon.ca: Kindle Store. (2018, Jan 06). Retreived from https://www.amazon.ca/Brain-Emotional-Intelligence-New-Insights-ebook/dp/B004WG5ANA)

In short, to say men are not in touch with their feelings is inaccurate, based on scientific research. Let it go. This sterotype does not serve us in the science of conflict management.

“Men abuse their power.”

This just in….both men and women have been known abuse power. Power is a concept with the common perception of possessing seductive tendencies for great reward.

At the beginning of my practice in 1998-1999 I met and befriended a theorist with more than thirty years of practice in psychology. We spent time together and she mentored the growing edges of my learning about working with people in conflict.

I still remember the one discussion we had where my life totally changed. We were talking about teen angst as I was spending time in schools, group homes, emergency shelters, and youth detention centres delivering conflict management curriculum high risk youth. We were mapping out family systems theory and she explained to me how power does not equal responsibility. This profound learning experience left me with an insatiable hunger to learn more about the dynamics of the perception of power in conflict management.

Soon after I learned how we experience expressions of power through resistance. There is a constant synergy around us to protect us from what we don’t want and move us to what we deeply desire: survival. It comes down to our basal ganglia and how we are hardwired for survival. Thus, we are naturally attracted to power because it gives us the greatest sense of survival. Having said that, the abuse of power is a behaviour where the magic elixir is in finding the underlying responsibility the person is avoiding.

Responsibility is the cryptonite for people who abuse power.

Stereotypes about Women:

“Women are too emotional.”

I too have been accused of being too emotional. In recent discussion with a colleague and friend, we were talking about dialogue and how allowing time and space for people to express their grievances help to move toward solutions.

How many times have you felt overcome with emotions as a result of frustration, fear and loss? How we express these emotions, whether man or woman, determines how they are responded to by those around us.

The following is a excerpt about the science behind how we perceive emotions expressed by both men and women:

‘Are women more emotionally intelligent than men? Today, it is widely believed, among the general public and academics alike, that the female gender is linked with better knowledge of emotions. Is this notion correct or yet another stereotype? To address this question, the relationship between gender and emotional intelligence (EI), as assessed using the “Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test” (MSCEIT), is considered. A new perspective was taken in this research by controlling for age, which is one of the principal sociodemographic characteristics that interacts with gender as well as EI, in order to clarify how gender affects EI. Results showed that the gender differences initially reported for EI are mediated completely by age for the branches of facilitation and understanding, for strategic area and for total score, and partially by age for the dimension of emotional managing. These findings indicate the need for caution when concluding that gender affects EI in the absence of tests for possible interactions between gender and other variables that may influence EI.’

Gender differences in emotional intelligence: The mediating effect of age (PDF Download Available). (2018, Jan 06). Retreived from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/257236324_Gender_differences_in_emotional_intelligence_The_mediating_effect_of_age

It is time to let this stereotype go. The science of conflict management is all inclusive of the micro skills in communication. Recognizing how our perceptions reinforce our beliefs about how men and women respond to conflict will go a long way in how we engage and create opportunities for meaningful interactions.

“Women overreact.”

Perception plays an integral role in how we see the world around us, our relationships and our role in both. Perception is largely influenced by our self concept and reinforced cycles of self esteem.

The science of conflict management proclaims how we need to become more self aware to be equipped with accurate information about how we react to, respond to and resolve the conflicts we experience.

At the heard of conflict management is our social interaction. We are socialized, through reinforced behaviour, to respond to conflict. The following excerpt explains the research supporting the relationship between perception and socialization:

‘Three studies documented the gender stereotypes of emotions and the relationship between gender stereotypes and the interpretation of emotionally expressive behavior. Participants believed women experienced and expressed the majority of the 19 emotions studied (e.g., sadness, fear, sympathy) more often than men. Exceptions included anger and pride, which were thought to be experienced and expressed more often by men. In Study 2, participants interpreted photographs of adults’ ambiguous anger/sadness facial expressions in a stereotype-consistent manner, such that women were rated as sadder and less angry than men. Even unambiguous anger poses by women were rated as a mixture of anger and sadness. Study 3 revealed that when expectant parents interpreted an infant’s ambiguous anger/sadness expression presented on videotape only high-stereotyped men interpreted the expression in a stereotype-consistent manner. Discussion focuses on the role of gender stereotypes in adults’ interpretations of emotional expressions and the implications for social relations and the socialization of emotion.’

Plant, E. A., Hyde, J. S., Keltner, D., & Devine, P. G. (2000). The Gender Stereotyping of Emotions. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 24(1), 81–92. doi: 10.1111/j.1471-6402.2000.tb01024.x

“Women become irrational in conflict.”

When was the last time you felt hurt by someone in one of your relationships? How about overjoyed and happy? Our reactions, either positive or negative, relate to our perception of sincerity by the other person in our interpretation of the interaction.

The following research explains the link between sincerity, social judgment and the science of conflict management:

‘In this paper we report a partial replication of the finding that women face a double-bind with respect to emotional expression (Kelly & Hutson-Comeaux, 2000) and explore the hypothesis that gender-inconsistent emotional reactions are perceived to be more valid indicators of one’s underlying emotional experience than gender-consistent emotional reactions. Men and women evaluated the appropriateness and sincerity of women’s and men’s overreactions to happy and angry events in both interpersonal and achievement contexts. Women’s overreactions to happy events were judged as less appropriate and their emotional reactions were perceived as less sincere than were men’s, particularly in an interpersonal context. In addition, men’s overreactions to angry events in the interpersonal context were judged as less appropriate and less sincere than were women’s. Implications of the findings for other types of social judgments are discussed.’

Hutson-Comeaux, S. L., & Kelly, J. R. (2002). Gender Stereotypes of Emotional Reactions: How We Judge an Emotion as Valid. Sex Roles, 47(1), 1–10. doi: 10.1023/A:1020657301981

Given how our perception is integral in how we create meaning and interpret social judgement, it is important to once again let go of the stereotype about how women become irrational in conflict.

“Women want to talk everything to death.”

I am a talker who is always seeking meaningful engagement with others. Blogging and my presence on social media is one outlet to express my thoughts, ideas and feelings in hopes of creating a greater discussion about what I am so passionate about. There must be others like me! Sometimes meaningful engagement experiences happens for me at the mall, the grocery store, or in passing at a coffee shop. Relationships are important and because I spend most of my time discussing tasks, content and processes in the intellectual domain, balance comes when engaged in expressive discussions about relationships. Curious to a fault at times, I have been known by others as nosy and meddling.

The key lesson I have learned is in how this type of engagement I seek out has been with both men and women over the years. Having said that, the best conversations I recall with my dad or husband has been when we were doing something together and co-creating a synergy of energy and movement like with walking, working or playing a game together. Curiosity for me is the key to taking a deep dive into the science of conflict management.

The following research explains how men and women differ in our brains and the results show in how we engage and interact amongst each other:

‘Scientists generally study four primary areas of difference in male and female brains: processing, chemistry, structure, and activity. Male brains utilize nearly seven times more gray matter for activity while female brains utilize nearly ten times more white matter. What does this mean?

Gray matter areas of the brain are localized. They are information- and action-processing centers in specific splotches in a specific area of the brain. This can translate to a kind of tunnel vision when they are doing something. Once they are deeply engaged in a task or game, they may not demonstrate much sensitivity to other people or their surroundings.

White matter is the networking grid that connects the brain’s gray matter and other processing centers with one another. This profound brain-processing difference is probably one reason you may have noticed that girls tend to more quickly transition between tasks than boys do. The gray-white matter difference may explain why, in adulthood, females are great multi-taskers, while men excel in highly task-focused projects.

‘Male and female brains process the same neurochemicals but to different degrees and through gender-specific body-brain connections. Some dominant neurochemicals are serotonin, which, among other things, helps us sit still; testosterone, our sex and aggression chemical; estrogen, a female growth and reproductive chemical; and oxytocin, a bonding-relationship chemical.

In part, because of differences in processing these chemicals, males on average tend to be less inclined to sit still for as long as females and tend to be more physically impulsive and aggressive. Additionally, males process less of the bonding chemical oxytocin than females. Overall, a major takeaway of chemistry differences is to realize that our boys at times need different strategies for stress release than our girls.’

Brain Differences Between Genders. (2018, Jan 06). Retreived from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/hope-relationships/201402/brain-differences-between-genders

To reiterate other explanations within this post, it all comes back to our primal instinct for survival. Given the science in how we relate to one another and the expressed symptoms of our relationships, we need to let go of the stereotype about how women want to talk everything to death and embrace our similarities as well as our differences, regardless of gender.

Summary

In conclusion, 2018 is the year we let go of these stereotypes and begin to create opportunities for authentic dialogue about the science of conflict management. This post is intended to show you how science plays a key role in how we relate to one another and create meaning together. Micro skills are reported as being of the greatest need in workplaces. It is not about discussions of culture, climate and other concepts that seem too large to do anything about where we will find the solutions we seek. It starts with how we each, as individuals, relate to ourselves, one another and the world around us.

Thank you for taking the time to read my post.

Until next time,

s.

Check out this infographic summarizing this post: The Science of Conflict Management- The Case for Gender (INFOGRAPHIC)

Want more? Read ‘How to focus on the behaviour and not the person during conflict management’.

About The Author

Suzanne Marie

Living life to its fullest. Building mighty communities through connection, belonging, security, and love. I am founder and CEO at Peak Conflict Solutions and my purpose in life is to show your workplace how to set the tone for connection, belonging, and security while creating space for conflict management.