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“Fight or Flight” Syndrome is Half Right

“’There was this joke that when the women who worked in the lab were stressed, they came in, cleaned the lab, had coffee, and bonded,” Dr. Laura Cousin Klein told Gale Berkowitz.  “When the men were stressed, they holed up somewhere on their own. I commented one day to fellow researcher Shelley Taylor that nearly 90% of the stress research is on males. I showed her the data from my lab, and the two of us knew instantly that we were onto something.”

It turns out that the oft-quoted “Flight or Flight” response to a stressful situation applies more to men than women. Also, women under stress are more able to read other’s facial expressions and men are less accurate in reading emotions in another’s face.

In threatening or otherwise stressful situations with others men and women also react differently, according to studies yet two of the findings cited seem to be somewhat contradictory:

1. Men initiate connection. Women accept offers to connect.

Men are more willing to expose themselves to the risk of making an overture; yet women are more likely to reciprocate an overture once it’s made.

2. Men Withdraw. Women reach out.

“Men get  antisocial under pressure, but women tend to react in the opposite way: they ‘tend and befriend.’” (The article has a link from “anti-social”, when describing men, to an article on the behavior of psychopaths. This seems sexist or at least not relevant).

The article seems to focus on the first responses to threats or other stress when around others rather than on what unfolds at first and over time – toward connecting and collaborating or not.

Without any research to back me up, I agree with Sahar: “Women instinctively tend to be more social perhaps due to the need for support; men like to be more independent.  Under pressure, we first follow those instincts.”  

Men are more likely – in general – to propose action and press for quick response and women – in general – are more likely to support the group in finding a path towards agreement on what to do together.

Men will focus on getting it done – and place a priority on being respected and productive. Women will spend more effort on helping people feeling comfortable with each other; they perform better when they feel liked and appreciated –and they worry more. Both sexes act worse when others do not appear to be acting fairly through this tense time.

What’s your experience in attempting to connect and collaborate in stressful situations where both women and men are involved?

By the way, in other studies, psychologist Mara Mather found that “acute stress increases sex differences in risk seeking.” Women become more moderate in their habits and avoid risks. Men are more likely to gamble, drink, have unsafe sex or take other risks.

There are exceptions of course.

To reduce your stress and savor your work more cultivate a satisfying work relationship with a partner – female or male.

Emulate a valuable partner by adopting the traits that the Gallup organization found to be most helpful, described in The Power of 2: “If you want to have great partnerships, be a great partner.

Get beyond yourself. Give up the notion that you are well-rounded, and stop expecting your colleagues to be universally proficient. Incorporate someone else’s motivations into your view of the accomplishment. Loosen up. Put aside your competitive nature, your prepackaged view of how the thing should be done, and your desire not to be inconvenienced with the imperfections of a fellow human being.

Focus more on what you do for the partnership than what you get from it. Demonstrate trust in more people, and see if they don’t surprise you with their trustworthiness. Be slower to anger and quicker to forgive. And along the way, communicate continuously.”

“You know your work partnership is truly unselfish if you feel genuine satisfaction at each other’s success, if you and your partner will risk a lot for each other, and if your collaborator is like a brother or sister’ to you.” ~ Rodd Wagner and Gale Muller

Categories: behavior, Book, Conflict, Cooperation, Friendship, partnering and tagged , , , , , , , , , , .
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One Comment

  1. Posted May 17, 2010 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

    It is a wonder with so many biological differences that relationships between men and women work at all. The need for men to withdraw when under stress is usually the opposite reaction that women need to work through difficult situations.

    It is important that more people understand the information you have provided,

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