Use brain science to help solve challenges in relationships at work.
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Such problems might include such issues as poor communication, persistent conflict, lack of motivation, stalled problem solving, or lack of skilled teamwork?
If so, you are not alone.
This was true for 91% of 256 leaders surveyed at a recent workshop.
Why are such troubles so common?
- Our minds are hard-wired in a way that makes everyone at risk for creating these troubles at times, especially in situations of complexity and stress. This is true even for experts in communication and teamwork.
- Activation of hard-wiring pulls people out of their best level of communication and relational skills. The good news is that better skills are usually there to tap into. .
- Early on in our evolution, brain centers and pathways (the limbic system) developed which generate automatic responses to perceived threats—flight, fight, or freeze.
- In modern social situations, perceived social threats can activate these same pathways, bypassing modulation by higher centers. Social threats include any situations which generate concerns about failure, loss of self-esteem, or loss of control.
- As a result of activation, we can be gripped in strong emotions and strong but faulty interpretations which are disruptive to work relationships.
- Limbic pathways diminish activity of higher brain centers leading to a narrowing of attention and reduced capacities for objectivity. This increases the risks of unproductive behaviors.
- By consciously activating higher cognition centers (including the prefrontal cortex--PFC), we can decrease activity in survival pathways.
- Using the higher centers of the PFC is energy expensive. It is easy for the PFC to get overloaded.
- Based on these factors, a key ingredient to change efforts is being able to focus attention repetitively over a long enough time on the desired shifts in habits and patterns of tasks and relationships so that a new balance of pathways can take hold in the brain. (Rock, 2009--Ref.1)
Actions which help to activate higher brain centers:
(based on linking neuroscience to research and experience in psychology and organizational development)
- Committing to a practice of self-reflection to learn the types of situations which trigger our reactive states. By observing ourselves in tough situations over time, we can learn to recognize the early signs of reactivity in our emotions, thoughts, and behavior. See the article Are you leading from reactivity or creativity?
- Labeling thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Surprisingly, just naming them reduces arousal of the limbic system--the survival pathways of the brain.
- Reinterpreting difficult interpersonal challenges as a part of being human rather than a sign of bad intentions or personality issues. Even the most skilled people can be quite reactive at times.
- Refocusing on our highest vision and goals of what we want to accomplish and acting in alignment with our highest values.
- Adjusting expectations to what is doable with others from a mutual perspective.
- Diminishing the risks of perceived social threats via understanding, empathy, and respect.
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(1) Rock, David Your Brain At Work HarperCollins Publishers 2009
(2) Lieberman, Matthew D. Social: why our brains are hard-wired to connect Crown Publishers 2013