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The Brilliant Chaos of Women

I attended a virtual meeting the other day talking about the outcome of a video recording session – the content, the technical, the intended impact and how it would best serve our common purpose.

It was early morning for me – and we were in different time zones across the planet. I could feel the individual presence of each of us. It was wonderful to be in community this way, and talking about a project that mattered to us.

We all pitched in, as women will, each with our own thoughts, contexts, observations and ideas on the use of the piece.

Was it advertising? A true statement of intention? Perhaps a first step at creating more impactful video content. We were certainly of different viewpoints – and proposing different ways forward. Ideas and information were flowing in a tumble of emotional energy. The conversation seemed chaotic – no rules of corporate order at that table!

Part way through the call, I found myself checking the energy level of one of the participants, as he contributed and listened. There was a moment when this lone male stopped contributing – lost in the chaos of women.

The rapid ebb and flow of women’s energy at work is a mystery to many men (except for the more ’sensitive’ types so easily dismissed in the ‘corporate’ view). While seeming to not be talking directly to an specific outcome, most women in a group can easily reach a consensus for a course of action, as happened in the video conversation that I am referring to.

Suffice to say, the collective processes and chaos of women are different. Not better or worse than any other. Just different.

Brain Freeze

We each have our own version of the ‘just right’ amount of mental stimulus we can bear. Part of being an adult is learning what that range is and ensuring an environment in which we can be in that range – and stay out of the ’brain freeze’ that shuts us down or pushes us to disengage.

History often depicts women as the ‘weaker’ sex, where the focus is on manual strength, rather than on emotional intelligence and resiliency. Popular culture further divides men and women across gender lines using terms such as ‘the battle of the sexes’.

I have to say I think we’ve been collectively missing the point.

Brain Science

Brain-science is giving us new insight into how the brain deals with stress – and not just the ‘fight, flight, or freeze’ kind. In any arena where stress is the topic, it is best to note that there is a difference between ‘distress’ and ‘eustress’.

Distress, well most of us know only too well what that can feel like. Eustress (a term coined in the late 20th century) however is the kind of stress or stimulation (I like that word so much better) that gets us up and engaged with our day, and our lives. It is beneficial stress. And we each have our own version of how much is ‘just right’ and how much is too much, or too little!

Brain-science is showing us that women have a higher tolerance for ‘stimulation’ (aka “stress”) than men do. (It’s not a though we didn’t know – evidence a song like Peggy Lee and I’m a WOMAN to name just one.) What both men and women have been led to infer is that because women are labelled as ’weaker’, then they are less capable. And, we know that isn’t true.

Of course, the whole subject is much more complex than I’ve written it – suffice to say we all prefer to be ‘on our game’ when we’re engaging and working with others!

Over stimulated

This sense of being over-stimulated has been referred to by my male friends as ‘flooding’. A perfectly natural response when there is too much information to process. They also tell me that most often ‘flooding’ occurs in the areas of high emotional or creative energy. The kind of energy that groups of women are good at generating.

Recovery

The truth is, we all can suffer from over-stimulation, and there is a desperate need for us as humans to learn how to keep ourselves within our own ‘just right’ zone, while still playing to our best strengths and those of others around us.

How we recover from over-stimulation starts with knowing when we’ve had enough. Naming where we are when we first notice that we are over stimulated is far better than waiting – perhaps out of bravado – until it is too late.

We all have techniques for managing stress, with some of them being more effective than others. According to Ann Betz and Ursula Pottinga, of BeAbove Leadership, the most effective is:

Mindfulness seems to be the most effective solution to any neuroscience challenge, from stress, to creativity, to improving memory, and even being more emotionally intelligent.

Mindfulness speaks to being ‘present’ to what is happening in the room. Being aware of the energy and the ebb and flow (and knowing how to speak to that energy) can create greater connection and more meaningful conversation. Traditionally, we’ve relied on the meeting ‘chair’ to have overview of such thing, however, in our not-physically-present electronic age, we need to have a greater capacity to bridge that energy gap.

Ultimately, though, I think it is more about being aware as participants, whether male or female, to ensure all are in the conversation.