How Gender Affects Coaching

Robert Holmes November 20, 2015 0
How Gender Affects Coaching

Kenneth and Barbara are in their mid 40’s. They have come to you for coaching. After an initial face to face you have done two more sessions via Skype. You are starting to notice quite large differences in their responsiveness, as Barbara appears to be very engaged and Kenneth is quite reserved. It surprises you when, after the coaching, he says how profound it was. Kenneth’s conduct never reflected his internal feelings at the time.

Aside from personality, cultural upbringing and social status the remaining differences in their responses centre on gender and its effects on physiology (the body), biochemistry (the blood) and neurology (the brain). Whilst Kenneth and Barbara’s body, blood and brain are about 90% the same, it is the differences that affect the way they experience coaching. Kenneth and Barbara represent the average man and woman. What follows are conclusions from the research that tell us general trends. As with all such generalisations there will be exceptions and outliers, so apply the tips with care and observation.

First, a note about coach gender

Research studies going back to 1989 have looked at how gender affects mentoring and coaching relationships. In his paper “Choosing An Executive Coach: the influence of gender on the coach-coachee matching process,” Professor David Gray observed, “The empirical evidence as to the benefits of same-gender versus cross-gender relationships is contradictory and inconclusive.”

Actual results produced by coaches of both genders were quite equal, but perceptions about them were different. Women were perceived to have several key advantages: they were often seen to offer more personal support, were easier to talk to, warmer and more approachable and perceived as being better listeners. Some respondents chose female coaches because they were seen as being able to offer broader life based perspectives and displayed more attitudinal flexibility.

So much for the coach, now for our clients. What is driving Kenneth and Barbara to respond differently… and more importantly, what should we do about it?

Physiology: the body

Men and women differ all the way down to cellular level. Barbara has two X chromosomes in every cell and Kenneth has an X and a Y. These differences give rise to at least two coaching related issues:

1. Barbara’s skin is ten times as sensitive to touch and her muscles are connected to her centres for emotion. Kenneth’s muscles are hardwired for embodied cognition (he thinks about an action and his muscles prepare to act) and are connected to his centres for response.
TIP 1: A female client may respond well to appropriate human touch – tactile responsiveness can change the direction of a coaching session.
TIP 2: Instead of drawing a diagram or explaining it to him, try moving a male client spatially through an exercise. Movement can help him understand more quickly.

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