One of women’s greatest strengths is their ability to notice a lot of things at once. Men, on the other hand, tend to concentrate more on one region.
The result? Women’s attention, for the most part, operates like radar, scanning the environment, picking up a broad range of clues, and paying attention to context. Whereas men’s attention operates more like a laser, focusing tightly and absorbing information in sequence.
Of course, all human beings fall at different places along this spectrum. And because human neural circuits adapt, grow and shrink as you practice different behaviors, your brain develops new abilities depending on which circuits get used. So, if your job requires you to analyze a lot of data, your neural paths will become more laser-like over time. If your job requires you to be aware of people’s responses, the neural paths that support radar will become more robust.
Still, the generalization about men’s and women’s different noticing styles remains broadly true, as MRI results conﬁrm. This makes sense given that our distinctive ways of noticing have evolved over hundreds of thousands of years.
One problem for women is that organizations still privilege laser notice, or “just get to the bottom line” and view it as a leadership behavior. This is not surprising given that, until a few decades ago, organizations were led almost entirely by men.
Yet in today’s abundant world, a well-developed radar can be a powerful asset at work. Being highly attuned to the details of relationships and to what people are feeling enables you to excel at motivating others, inspiring morale. It helps you negotiate and communicate with sensitivity and skill. It supports collaboration and teamwork. And radar helps you build the intimate friendships that support your resilience when the going gets rough.
As with any strength, radar has its shadow side. A well-developed radar can make it difﬁcult for you to ﬁlter out unhelpful distractions, scattering your attention and undermining your ability to be present. Radar can degrade your capacity to compartmentalize perceptions that might undermine your conﬁdence and ability to perform.
Radar may also be in part responsible for women’s tendency to give themselves a hard time. Being hyper-aware of other people’s reactions can feed the ﬁres of self-doubt and cause you to over-think your actions. Having an active radar may, therefore, be in part responsible if you have a tendency to ruminate. Especially if you put a negative spin on whatever you notice.
Reframing is a great way to manage an over-active radar. For instance, if you’re giving a presentation and everyone is responding well except the guy in the front row who seems irritated or distracted, rather than wondering to yourself, Do I sound garbled? Doesn’t he agree with me why does he look bored out of his mind”? reframe the observation, MAYBE IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU! Perhaps the guy in the front row just had a fight with his spouse. Perhaps he has a pressing deadline to prepare for. There are many things other than your presentation that could be an issue. For goodness sakes, it could be that he has gas!
Reframing is very powerful because it doesn’t force you to choose between the thoughts racing through your mind and whatever it is you’re actually trying to communicate. It enables you to acknowledge what you’re feeling and harness the power of your radar!
Essential reading for any woman who is ready to advance to the next level.
Leadership expert Sally Helgesen and bestselling leadership coach Marshall Goldsmith identify the 12 habits that hold women back as they seek to advance, showing them why what worked for them in the past might actually be sabotaging their future success.
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