Richard G. Petty, MD

Gender, Culture and Communication

Regular readers will know that I’m very interested in gender differences. More and more evidence is confirming what most of us have always known: men and women tend to think and behave differently. Some of the differences are clearly neurological and some social. It is sometimes difficult to sort out which is more important: some research findings on gender differences have produced mixed results because of some of the assumptions of male investigators!

But notice that I emphasize the word “tend” to think differently. We are always dealing with statistical differences. My Y-chromosome should enable me to navigate from A to B without difficulty. In fact, I am seriously directionally challenged: I should probably have a GPS system with me when I go down to the shops!

I have spoken about my admiration for the work of Deborah Tannen, and I have also written about Christina Robb’s marvelous book, in which she charts the development of new insights into gender differences in psychology.

This weekend I was at the annual meeting of the National Speakers Association in Orlando, and I learned something very interesting that fits in with all of our previous discussions. I learned it from one of the speakers, named Julia Hubbel. I already knew that women tend to be more relational in their interactions and men are more transactional. Most women tend to spend a lot more time on the maintenance and development of relationships and most men are more interested in the bottom line: What is the solution? What’s the deal going to be? What I did not know is that there is some data to indicate that non-White males tend also to emphasize relationships over transaction. As soon as I heard that, I was sure that it was right: I have had a lot of dealings with people from the Indian subcontinent, and most would consider it very rude to get straight down to business before we had taken tea or eaten something while discussing family and other personal matters. Julia teaches networking skills that integrate gender and ethnic considerations.

As she was explaining her insights and methods, I was reminded of the work of the anthropologist and cross-cultural researcher Edward T. Hall, who wrote a series of excellent books on cultural factors and thought.

Gender and cultural differences in communication are of such importance that I plan to return to the topic in the near future. In the meantime, you might be interested in a book by Richard Nisbett, entitled The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently and Why. After multiple trips to Japan, during which I learned a lot about cultural differences, I gave a copy to a friend who is a Canadian in a senior management position in the Japanese affiliate of a US-based company. He told me that he was astonished by the accuracy of the insights.

Some of the political misunderstandings that you see on the news every morning are often a consequence of different thinking styles. Learning how men and women and people in different cultures think and operate is not just interesting.

It is essential.

“Skill in the art of communication is crucial to a leader’s success. He can accomplish nothing unless he can communicate effectively.”
— Norman Allen (American Playwright, Recipient of a Charles MacArthur Award for Outstanding New Play)

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About Richard G. Petty, MD
Dr. Richard G. Petty, MD is a world-renowned authority on the brain, and his revolutionary work on human energy systems has been acclaimed around the globe. He is also an accredited specialist in internal and metabolic medicine, endocrinology, psychiatry, acupuncture and homeopathy. He has been an innovator and leader of the human potential movement for over thirty years and is also an active researcher, teacher, writer, professional speaker and broadcaster. He is the author of five books, including the groundbreaking and best selling CD series Healing, Meaning and Purpose. He has taught in over 45 countries and 48 states in the last ten years, but spends as much time as possible on his horse farm in Georgia.

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