Compartmentalization vs Free Range Worries

No stereotypes here, but boy, men and women DO seem to ponder things differently.


How Do We Think?

Well, why not start the New Year off with something bound to stir up some arguments? All this end of the year/end of the decade list making has encouraged a lot of us to make similar lists on a personal level. In talking with friends, and reading about other people’s thoughts, I am reminded of an old truism: men and women really do seem to think about a lot of things in different ways. Not a surprise, I know. But there are some interesting implications in those differences.

I am cautious about oversimplifying or over categorizing anything, so take what follows with a grain of salt. Lots of exceptions and variations out there. But I do think that all in all, there are some interesting differences between Mars and Venus on how we think about things. Not only that, I see some real advantages each brings to the table when thinking about an issue.


Feel free to correct me if you think I am wrong (not that such a thing has ever happened to me on this blog….), but it seems to me that men as a general group do a pretty good job of compartmentalizing the things they worry about. That is, they tend to work at defining the limits of a problem and what they can do about said problem. Once they run out of options and/or information, they put it aside until one of those variables change. The thought being, “I can’t do anything more about this now, so I am putting it aside. I will pick it up again later and see what has changed.”

This offers many advantages. Primary among those advantages would be conservation of energy, time, and attention from efforts that offer marginal returns. But there are downsides as well. One of these is that in so compartmentalizing an issue, the individual may miss the linkage this problem has to something else. That linkage could offer increased risks or a possible solution. But if you are not looking for that linkage, you are unlikely to find it until you trip over it by mistake. The second disadvantage for the man is that if he shares consideration of this problem with a woman, she is likely to think he is nuts and/or callous, because she looks at the same issue from a completely different perspective.


Most of the women I have known tend to revisit an issue or a problem ad nauseum, looking at it over and over. To a man, this often seems like needless worrying. To the woman, it is a process of finding hidden elements or lost connections. The downside for the woman is that there is never any mental peace; she finds it difficult not to pick up the issue and turn it over yet again. The advantage is that in so doing, she may well come to a more creative solution.

We have all heard the stories of women talking aloud about a problem and the men offering solutions, only to learn she was not looking for his version of a solution – she was thinking out loud and needed the time and space to do so.

You put those two mindsets in a mix with all the cultural imperatives and traditions we all inherit, and you see why sometimes we seem to be two different species all together.  There is even a physical component to all this. Research indicates that most brain connections in men tend to be within each hemisphere of the brain. Women’s brains, by contrast, tend to have many connections between hemispheres. Maybe we really are wired differently!

You can see this on a grand scale, too. Watch how the presidential candidates seem to think and prioritize issues when they speak. Watch the difference between, say Nancy Pelosi and some of her male counterparts. That last one may not be fair. Speaker Pelosi is a rare person of skill and judgement on any criteria list. No small number of her counterparts could audition for a Three Stooges movie. But I digress, yet again.

All of Us

All this is not to say one approach is necessarily better than the other. Rather, it is to make the case that we do well to understand diversity has strength in that it offers needed variety. Much has been correctly said that the world would be a better place with more women leaders, but that is not the same as saying if women ran the world, we would be better off. I think we would just trade for a different set of proclivities and blind spots.

The best leaders I have known recognized the value of diversity and sought to build their teams accordingly. They had lots of feedback and differences to deal with, but they seldom were blindsided by things their team did not see coming. Let’s recognize that none of us know it all or are always intuitively right. Maybe thinking more about something in a different way is the right answer, maybe putting it aside is the right answer. Let’s be open to the possibilities.

And if all that seems too dry and academic, perhaps the way this video depicts the differences will help. Enjoy.

      Bill Clontz

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