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Conversational Neurochemistry Practice ‘mind opening’ psychology By Judith E. Glaser and Richard D. Glaser Why do negative and judgmental comments and conversations— especially from people in positions of authority—stick with us so much longer than positive ones? Once I coached a senior executive from Verizon, Rob, who thought of himself as a “best practices” leader who told people what to do, set clear goals, and challenged his team to produce quality results. But when one of his direct reports had a heart attack, and three others asked HR to be transferred off his team, Rob realized there was a problem. After observing Rob’s conversational patterns for a few weeks, I saw clearly that his negative behaviors (which produce cortisol) easily outweighed his positive behaviors (which produce oxytocin). Instead of asking questions to stimulate discussion, showing concern for others, and painting a compelling picture of shared success, he tended to tell and sell his ideas, entering most discussions with a fixed opinion, determined to convince others he was right. He was not open to others’ influence; he failed to listen to connect. When I explained this to Rob, and told him about the chemical impact of his behavior on his employees, he vowed to change, and it worked. A few weeks later, a member of his team even asked me: “What did you give my boss to drink?” The Job of Rob (and all managers) A critique from a boss, a disagreement with a colleague, a fight with a friend – the sting from any of these can make you forget a month’s worth of praise or accord; if you have been called lazy, careless, or a disappointment, you’re likely to remember and internalize it. It’s somehow easier to forget, or discount, all the times people have said you’re talented or conscientious or that you make them proud. Chemistry plays a big role in our conversational interactions. When we face criticism, rejection or fear, when we feel marginalized or minimized, our bodies produce higher levels of cortisol, a hormone that shuts down the thinking center of our brains and activates conflict aversion and protection behaviors. We become more reactive and sensitive. We often perceive even greater judgment and negativity than actually exists. And these effects can last for 26 hours or more, imprinting the interaction on our memories and magnifying the impact it has on our future behavior. Cortisol functions like a sustained-release tablet – the more we ruminate about our fear, the longer the impact. Positive comments and conversations produce a chemical reaction too. They spur the production of oxytocin, a feel-good hormone that elevates our ability to communicate, collaborate and trust others by activating networks in our prefrontal cortex. But oxytocin metabolizes more quickly than cortisol, so its effects are less dramatic and long-lasting. Chemical Cocktails This chemistry of conversations is linked to a whole new science of what opens up and closes down our minds, hearts and brains to other human beings and to the world around us. When our minds are triggered by fear we close down and move into protect behavior. Triggering can take place in a nanosecond – which we now know can be as fast as .07 seconds. When our lower brain, or what is called our Amygdala, is threatened the levels of cortisol rise which creates an immediate ‘shut down’ of our prefrontal cortex or our ‘executive brain’ – the brain that enables strategic thinking, empathy, connectivity with others, innovative thing and most of all trust. When we are in an ‘Extreme Trigger’ we get what is called an Amygdala Hijack. Here are Seven Universal Threats that give us an Amygdala Hijack: • Tone threat—judgmental or angry tone is felt as a threat to our ego • Hurt threat—threat to our physical safety, and to our ego • Risk of Rejection threat—fear of failure or making mistakes and being rejected • Exclusion threat—looking stupid in front of others and being ostracized • Anger threat—fear of someone’s anger toward us, and not knowing how to respond • Territory threat—having our territory limited or diminished, or encroached • Status threat—challenge to our status, or making us feel small. That’s why it’s so critical for all of us—especially managers and leaders—to be more mindful about our interactions, and more conscious about our conversations and behaviors. In a fraction of a second, we can activate an Extreme Trigger (ET) and when we do, we cannot act intelligently – we are in a state of protection – and we cannot access our higher thinking powers. Those behaviors that increase cortisol levels also reduce our conversational intelligence (CIQ)— our ability to connect and think innovatively, empathetically, creatively and strategically with others. Behaviors that enable us to connect, collaborate, and co-create will spark oxytocin and boost C-IQ. Amplifying Insight through the Lens of Research To amplify and explain what opens and what closes down our brains during conversations, my consultancy, called The Creating WE Institute, partnered with Ryan Smith, CEO of Qualtrics, the world’s largest online survey software company, to analyze the frequency of negative (cortisol-producing) versus positive (oxytocin-producing) interactions in today’s workplaces. My goal was to have a way to examine and further understand the impact of conversations that enable companies to thrive and those that limit growth. Over the past 30 years, I’ve helped leaders at companies including Boehringer Personal Excellence essentials presented by HR.com | 10.2014 Submit your Articles 21


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