Friday, February 27, 2015
We are very close to going live with our new website.
We were testing social media links - and you may have received some repeat posts. Oops!
Hope that wasn't a problem - maybe you didn't even notice or even better, enjoyed them second time around!
So watch this space - hope to go live with the new site soon - very excited! Rae Stanton of accurateexpressions is doing a great job.
Tuesday, February 24, 2015
Do you get so close you can almost feel success and then you stumble at the last hurdle - how could this happen?
Have you got the guts and resilience for pressure situations?
Have you ever been so close to getting something you dearly want? It’s within your grasp, you’re just about there...and then you sabotage it?
It could be during an interview for a job: you suddenly realise that you have it all wrapped up but before you can stop yourself, you’re jabbering away, talking more than you should and in next to no time, the job you thought was yours is lost.
Or it could be selling a proposal at a meeting. Same thing. You’ve just about got them across the line. There’s a silence as people are coming to a decision. Instead of waiting out the silence – our mouths open again, adding unasked for/unwanted information – that triggers more questions that we really didn’t want to answer – end result: proposal turned down!
Or playing sport – you realise you are just about to win. You’re playing tennis - you have 3 match points and only have to win just one more. Or in football or rugby or hockey or netball, you are ahead and need only to defend your goal line for 60 seconds longer. In cricket, you only have to get two more runs and protect your stumps from the next 6 balls. You get the idea.
But what happens – we blow it, we lose the match, we lose the game, we lose the test. Why?
Surprise surprise - It’s your amygdala calling
Chances are – it was not because of our lack of skill or the superior competence of our opponent – it was because of our own self-sabotage, what is happening in our brain.
In a split second, our amygdala realises how close we are to getting what we want and fills us with fear at the thought we might not achieve it.
Instead of allowing our pre-frontal cortex to continue on the successful path that has led us to this point, to concentrate and hold our course (the logical way to deal with the fear), no – instead our amygdala starts its flight or fight routine, filling us with extra adrenalin, niggling at us, causing us to shake, our heart to race even faster, to lose concentration, worry about the future if we don’t win and suddenly we’ve lost when only moments earlier we were about to be victorious.
No wonder commentators, future employers, our colleagues, team selectors, our bosses, even the stock market in a crisis, ask whether we can ‘hold our nerve’ under pressure.
Nothing to lose
It’s ironic isn’t is that when we start out as a new manager, a budding sports person, a new employee in a role – we come up with great ideas, try out new strategies, new shots, give it our all – simply because we have ’nothing to lose’. Our brain hasn’t yet filed away any potential consequences of not succeeding in its ‘things to be frightened of’ storeroom.
The more we try, the more experience we get - these are the things that should make us more confident, more able, more focused. Yet so often they seem to create more anxiety about losing, more fears that hold us back and more occasions when we lose our composure.
Staying cool under pressure
One of the key distinguishing features of great sports champions, great managers and leaders, great colleagues and great friends is that they can hold it together under pressure. They can be relied on to hold their nerve, hold on and persevere to the end of the race, the challenge, the game.
How do they do it? It seems to me that this involves two key elements:
* Our ability to control our responses to our amygdala
Controlling our responses to those ‘almonds’ – our amygdala
Here are three tips to help you control your amygdala and prepare for any pressure situation you know is coming up:
1. Learn how to breathe and relax at will.
Don’t wait until you are under pressure to start practising. At any time at all, concentrate on your breathing and lowering your heart rate – you can do this on the bus, on the train, sitting in your car, watching TV, eating a meal, during a conversation.
Breathe deeply. Get oxygen deep into your lungs so it can spread around your body fast. It’s the best antidote to adrenalin.
2. Focus on your heart rate.
The exercise is simple: tell your heart to slow down. Keep your focus only on doing that.
Test your current ability to do it. Take your pulse before you do the exercise. Time it for 15 seconds then multiply by 4. Do the exercise for one minute. Then take your pulse again.
Repeat this exercise daily or more often if you can until you have mastered the ability to slow your heart rate down at will. Even slowing by a few beats per minute will make a difference.
You do have the time to practice. The exercise doesn’t take much time out of your day – it’s less than 2 minutes in total. i.e. Measure your pulse rate for 15 seconds, then for one minute breathe slowly and focus on your heart rate; then measure again.
3. Imagine the pressure situation you could find yourself in
This builds on the previous exercises. It will take a little more time – allow 10 minutes.
Sit or lie down in a quiet place and really put yourself there, in the pressure situation, in your mind. Visualise the place, the weather, the time of day, the people around you, the smell, the sounds, the voices, the words, how you are feeling physically, the pressure being applied.
When you’ve done this, if your heart rate hasn’t gone up – you’ve either mastered the art of relaxation and focus (well done!) or you haven’t really put yourself in that place. If necessary get someone who understands what you are trying to do to ‘talk you into’ that situation.
Then either, doing it yourself, or with another person’s help – breathe, talk to yourself, tell yourself to focus, walk though what you have to do, acknowledge that you are feeling ‘hyper’, tell your brain to translate all that hyper energy and adrenalin into even greater focus on keeping on doing what you have been doing to get you to the point you are now at.
Depending on your imagination, you might even imagine the adrenalin as a high powered injection of laser like accuracy, vision, and strength – whatever works for you to take back control over your mind rather than letting your amygdala create the very thing it is fearful of.
In other words, you can’t stop your amygdala from doing what it does – we are hardwired to worry about things that might cause us psychological or physical harm.
What we can do is train ourselves to quickly realise that the only thing to fear is fear itself and convert that extra surge of energy into the winning edge.
When you think about it, how do ambulance officers turn up for work every day knowing that they are going to have to attend accident scenes where people are dead, dying or horribly injured?
What do you think their amygdala does? Before training I am sure they experience fear and an impulse to get away, to not attend, to avoid the situation.
But they don’t. They turn up, remain calm, take control and in so doing save lives. If ambulance officers can do it in real life or death situations, I’m confident we can in other situations.
Resilience comes from feeling the fear and doing it anyway. To fight the urge to give up or to stop trying; to not let that ancient part of your brain dominate the contemporary you.
Resilience also comes from familiarity with the challenge. Every time you face it, whatever the outcome, win or lose, your amygdala realises it was not a life or death situation and slowly will becomes less sensitive and reactive to the perceived threat. So when we talk about “practice makes perfect” – it’s as much about the mind as the body.
Resilience not only in pressure situations
Ever wondered why you couldn’t stick to your diet? Resilience is not simply about dealing with pressure situations. It can also be about staying on your new food program, giving up smoking, going for the walk, to the gym, practising the piano, your language lessons, persevering with the new software or system.
Even in these situations, if you allow it to, your amygdala will make the ‘fear’ of the difficulty of the challenge run you off track and you’ll sink back ‘safely’ into your comfort zone. You’ll beat yourself up anyway if you do that so why not persevere with the challenge?
One step at a time
To build resilience, tell yourself it’s one step at a time whether it’s a pressure situation or not. Your amygdala can cause you to leap mountains in emergencies – but it takes an all or nothing approach. Your amygdala ‘sees’ life in extremes. Your pre-frontal cortex sees the spectrum.
So use your cortex to break down the pressure situation into its component parts. Then let your amygdala face it each part at a time not just as one overwhelming feat. Learn to breathe, focus and become resilient – then winning and coping under pressure will never again be ‘so near but so far away.’
Thursday, February 19, 2015
If your future employer wants you to take on a role that could be demanding and challenging, could a blood test be required to predict your response to anger and fear?
It may be possible in the future.
A recent study published February 9 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, indicated that individuals with lower DNA methylation show diminished brain response to angry and fearful faces and greater communication between brain regions important for regulating emotion.
Perhaps discovering multiple types of markers could even result in a kind of emotion-predisposition dashboard, predicting problems and prompting interventions.
To arrive at this result, the University of Virginia study evaluated sample of 98 healthy Caucasians aged 18 to 30 who provided blood samples and underwent functional MRI brain scans while looking at pictures of angry and fearful faces.
Interesting definitely. But how could such a test be used in the future, that is the big question. When considering who to marry or live with? Employment screening?
Monday, February 16, 2015
Another amazing advance in neuroscience and what the future is looking like.
This month, psychiatrist Karl Deisseroth, a Popular ScienceBrilliant 10 alumnus, is getting the Lurie Prize in Biomedical Sciences. The prize is for his work on two lab techniques that neuroscientists now use widely to study autism, Alzheimer's disease, depression, and other brain disorders.
The technique allows scientists to look through the brain as if it is transparent. At the moment is seems this is only done of organs taken from deceased animals or humans, but in the future?????
Monday, February 09, 2015
Someone loses it – a man dies
In the beautiful city of Sydney water restrictions are imposed. An elderly man was watering his garden. It was legal. He was watering his roses in the late afternoon, within the time limits imposed by the restrictions.
A younger man passed by. It seems that the men exchanged words about the watering and an altercation broke out. Moments later, the older man was dead. A grandfather, a father, a husband’s life snuffed out in an instant over a garden hose. The words had become blows leading to the older man’s death.
What could have happened?
The next day, in a road rage incident, a driver hurled a full bottle of water at the car of another driver. Fortunately, no one died in this incident.
On the same day, a manager at an office told a staff member that she had “!@#%ed up”, that she had to stay back late to make up for it or he would dock her pay. Her ‘error’ was a delay in delivering a report to his office caused by a power failure in her building that trapped her in a lift for an hour.
Why do so many people ‘lose it’?When you look around your world - at work, at home, in the street, on the road, or simply watering your garden – why do we see so many examples of people just ‘losing it’, losing self-control and allowing almost animal type behaviour to take over?
We see it on the sports field – biting incidents, punching, racist remarks – where grown men and women, players and parents, lose self-discipline in the heat of the moment.
Sometimes the crowd urge them on – why? If we urge them on, what do we want to see happen? Physical harm? How much? Death? Sometimes the behaviour is seen for what it is – lack of self-control and unprofessional.
At home, we see domestic violence, verbal abuse and hurtful comments – often resulting in fractured relationships and mental and physical harm to people in the place where they should be most treasured and secure.
A woman and her son were charged with killing the woman’s husband over 10 years ago, cutting up his body and scattering the body parts. One arm and the head have not yet been found. It is suggested that extreme domestic abuse was involved.
Why are we wired with the flight/flight response?
Stop for a moment and think about your levels of self-control. Think about the levels of self control in the real life examples I have given.
In the last example, the woman may have truly feared for her life. Her amygdala may well have caused her to act in order to preserve her own life. If this is true, then it is unlikely that any amount of logic would have prevented her from seeing any other way out of the intolerable situation that she may have been in.
If she did kill her husband in these circumstances then this is flight/flight at its extreme and this is what the brain is hard-wired for – self-defence.
But watering a garden? A disagreement about road rules? A sporting event? An issue at work?
Do you have self-control?So please consider: have you ‘lost it’ to any degree, anywhere, anytime, with anyone, over the last week?
* Did you argue with a shop assistant or a call centre operator?
* Did you ‘snap’ at your partner or your kids?
* Did you speak aggressively to a staff member?
* Were you sarcastic or make an unnecessarily snide remark?
* Did you fail to speak up at a meeting when you disagreed with a proposition, or someone clearly was distorting the truth – or worse still, stealing your ideas?
* Did you fail to tell the truth at a performance appraisal meeting?
* Did you just walk away from a discussion you need to have at home because it could be uncomfortable?
What was happening in these situations? Why did you show these aggressive or defensive behaviours? Was it The Almond Effect? ie an inappropriate response by your amygdala because, in fact, you weren’t actually ‘about to die’ even though your amygdala is geared for self-defence.
Your amygdala can’t tell the difference between a real and perceived threat to life. But your “thinking you” can.
The Almond Effect doesn’t have to play out as violently as some of the examples I have given. It happens when your amygdalae (almonds) are engaged and you are feeling fearful, anxious, irritated, defensive, embarrassed and so on. Have you felt like that this week?
Don’t get me wrong. These feelings are a ‘natural’ reaction to events that happen around us if the incident triggers patterns, memories or a history of things that we believe (mostly at a sub-conscious level) could harm us in some way.
It’s what we do about those triggers that determines our maturity and self-control and our leadership abilities.
Be a STARIn previous posts, I have written about being a STAR. using my STAR model to Stop – Think – Act – Rewire.
S: When you catch yourself being worked up or feel an unhelpful emotion coming on, like fear, anger, frustration, STOP. Stop yourself from immediately reacting. Take a deep breath. Count to 10 or whatever it takes.
T: Then THINK about what is really going on. What are the consequences/ outcomes you really want to come from this situation?
A: Then ACT – do whatever you decide is the best thing to do for the outcomes you would want outside the heat of the moment.
R: Finally reflect and review what went on. Where did the reaction come from? What caused it? How can you learn to manage that reaction in future? In other words, how can you REWIRE your amygdala?
Stop – Think – Act – RewireThe biggest challenge is to catch yourself experiencing The Almond Effect. Learn to watch for the signals – increased heart rate, perspiring, clenching your fists, your teeth, simply feeling agitated – everyone has a different signal.
If some of the horrible examples of The Almond Effect that I have given don’t motivate you to reflect on when this happens to you – let me be provocative: do you think that you have ever hurt someone emotionally because of your lack of self-control? Are you proud of it? Did it get you the result you wanted – in the short term, in the long term?
Self preservation in the 21st CThe Almond Effect® is a powerful emotional reaction – hard-wired into humans for self-preservation hundreds of thousands of years ago.
But this is the 21st C. If you are reading this it is likely that you live in a society where your elementary and basic needs met, as set out, for example, in Maslow's hierarchy ie you are fed, sheltered, and secure.
Of course, there are external threats that we cannot control – terrorism being a key example where The Almond Effect ® is exploited for appalling outcomes.
I urge you - become really conscious of examples of The Almond Effect around you. When you read the newspapers and watch the news, when you observe people at work, when you look at sport – actively consider: how many examples of The Almond Effect do you notice?
Even this exercise will help you become aware of the conscious and unconscious moments we later regret - when we have allowed The Almond Effect to rule our lives inappropriately instead of us being in control of how we act and our impact on others.
Monday, February 02, 2015
Of course you can teach an old dog new tricks!
I love the last paragraph of this clearly written Harvard Business Review blog on the role of logic vs emotion in decision-making.
Written in the context of sales, this article applies equally to 'selling' change and getting buy-in.
Read the HBR Blog here
Friday, January 30, 2015
This is a fascinating case study about a woman with a genetic condition that causes calcification of parts of the brain including the amygdala. As well as an insight and confirmation of the role of the amygdala, it offers researchers another potential pathway to alleviation of conditions such as anxiety disorder and PTSD.
Woman not afraid anything even danger due to rare genetic disorder
Tuesday, January 27, 2015
Are performance ratings be a thing of the past - just like a mammoth?
One of the most significant things we know about our brain is that it's going to react the same way to a threat (at least initially) whether it is a physical one or a psychological one. Our brains simply don't register the difference until the cortex is actively engaged and even then, managing fear can still be difficult.
It's why we can get anxious, upset, or flippant or aggressive at performance review time. It's the fight or flight system, your amygdala reacting to 'protect' you - what I call 'The Almond Effect.
This video suggests that performance ratings run contrary to the neuroscience.
It suggests a strategic conversational approach instead.
At the last Neuroleadership Conference (San Francisco 2014), it seemed that some companies were leading the move away from ratings to this approach.
Makes sense to me. What do you think?
Watch the video here:
How your brain responds to performance ratings
Tuesday, January 20, 2015
Change leaders have so much going on that it's easy to become overwhelmed by the multiple demands of their team, their colleagues, their bosses, the project managers, their regular workload - let alone home life demands.
More and more, mindfulness is practised as a way of dealing with the 'noise' and to enable focus to make headway through the workload.
This article from the HBR blog explains what happens in our brains when we practice Mindfulness.
It's a short, simple explanation that makes sense.
Mindfulness Can Literally Change Your Brain
Thursday, January 15, 2015
Times of uncertainty and volatility induce fear, and fear impedes people from feeling good and doing their best work.
Here are 4 tips that Glaser suggests you adopt as a leader to eliminate fear and enable your employees to develop their identity as ‘leaders in their own right’:
Provide context in every communication
Tell people where they stand
Use honesty at all times
Read the complete article on Psychology Today by Judith Glaser, author of Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results, who has been studying the relationship between trust, communication and high performance for decades.
Tuesday, January 13, 2015
You can't share this with anybody
Has your boss ever said something like the words in the title to you? Have you ever said it to a member of your team?
The secret might be about a restructure, change in product line, new technology, the company's financial results, a mistake, a failure, a possible merger, something about themselves, another employee or even about your role yet you are sworn to silence.
And what about at home? Have you ever withheld something from your partner or kids? An action that's left you feeling uncomfortable at best and dishonest at worst?
Apart from the discomfort you almost certainly experience, I am sure you've witnessed the effect of secrecy on people around you especially if they suspect something and already feel they are operating in an information vacuum.
People generally hate being kept in the dark. You are right if you suspect that our amygdalae are implicated in reactions to silence in ‘suspicious' circumstances.
We are so predictable!
Let's explore this. Most of what we do everyday we don't need to think about - we run on ‘automatic.' We consciously don't need to think about what to do next - we just ‘know'. Our brain guides us to take action based on pre-existing patterns of behaviour (habits) and predictability of outcomes.
So from the moment you get out of bed to the time you go back to bed, you probably follow a similar routine every day.
We don't like to think we are predictable but we are. We have to be otherwise our working memory would be exhausted and we would be whacked from the sheer effort of using our brains so much.
Routines are the basis of how we live
For me, my early morning outline is to get out of bed, go to the bathroom, then to the kitchen, turn on the electric jug, get my vitamins out, turn on my computer, open the sliding doors to the deck, open the front door and go down the steps to collect the newspaper, get my breakfast and so on. I don't actively think about it - it just happens like that most mornings.
My sub-conscious brain is guiding my actions and making decisions (like, is there enough water in the jug, stop pouring milk into the bowl) based on neural patterns laid down in its hardwiring that predicts outcomes.
Of course, if the paper hasn't been delivered or I've run out of vitamins then the routine is interrupted. I have to stop and think about what to do - well actually first, my amygdala automatically does some checking and assesses the risk to my survival with this break in pattern.
Usually it's no big deal because my amygdala knows based on history, that the lack of vitamins or a newspaper is not life threatening!
However if my computer tells me when I turn it on that its hard drive has failed then that's another reaction entirely - my ‘almonds' (the english translation of amygdalae) kick in!
I immediately have to manage my survival response (manifesting as words that it's preferable not to use!) and stop panicking long enough to get my thinking brain (pre-frontal cortex PFC) to work out where I put the number and service code for Apple, what I backed up, what I lost and what my priorities are.
My predictable morning didn't go as planned so The Almond Effect® kicked in - and I haven't even been up longer than 10 minutes!
Is it the same at work?
What do you do when you get to work, do you follow the same routine? For example, it could be that you turn on the computer, get coffee, say hi to people at the workstation across from you, open your email, look at your calendar etc.
No drama, all normal just as your brain predicted, unless an unexpected message starts flashing on your screen to call your manager urgently. Your brain's hard-wired pattern-based operation is stopped in its tracks as it rapidly tries to assess the ‘threat' and predict what the urgency is all about.
Your amygdala is immediately on red alert asking whether the interruption is a threat to your survival. If your personal history indicates that an a message to call the boss immediately is likely to cause a problem, then The Almond Effect® kicks in.
That's when you'll be glad you've been to one of my workshops, because you'll immediately put STAR into operation and get your PFC engaged to think before you act!
Not knowing is worst for the brain than knowing
Uncertainty really throws our brains into a spin because in the absence of any pattern to the contrary, our brain defaults to predict the worst outcome The Almond Effect®) - even in non-life threatening situations at home or at work.
This is why you should never be surprised that withholding information, keeping secrets etc will lead to gossip (flocking) pessimism and worst case scenario interpretations.
Lack of certainty creates anxiety, frustration, gossip and innuendo - all expressions of The Almond Effect®.
And anxious people don't concentrate or perform well - their brains are distracted - focussing on the cause of the anxiety. They are searching for any kind of predictable outcome so that the brain can operate with certainty again.
The situation is exacerbated if we are already operating in an information vacuum because our brains will predict the worst case scenario so we can prepare ourselves to survive.
Applied at home, it means for example that if your teenager isn't at the place they said they were going to, your 'almonds' go off. If you unexpectedly find a hotel receipt in your spouse's pocket, if your car breaks down in the middle of nowhere etc - you get the picture!
Whether you are implementing changes at work or trying to hide something from someone at home, be aware that if the other party's amygdala can't see a ‘safe' pattern, it will get suspicious. And the natural default reaction will be to focus on the worst case interpretation of the events with all the ramifications that will flow.
That's why most people say, just tell us what's going on - and then we can work out how to deal with it.
If you think you are doing people a favour by only giving information on a ‘need to know' basis, think again - brain biology wants just the opposite.
Tuesday, January 06, 2015
Resistance from the start
David was really frustrated. He was the leader of a team that sold luxury cars. As part of the company's renewed focus on improving customer service, his boss asked him to make sure that his team followed up with 1 in 4 of their customers two weeks after a sale to ensure they were happy with their new car.
As part of this process the sales rep had to complete and send the customer's responses to the customer service department.
Some members of David's team were reluctant. They resisted the change in process.
They said things like:
- we never had to do this before - they just want us to do more but without any extra resources
- we haven't got time
- why should we do it when we just cop flack because of problems that are not in our area
- it's just a fad - we've tried it before and nothing happens even if we send them the feedback
And before long, the more often the ‘resistors' said such things, more team members started to put the follows ups on their backburner!
Had David implemented the change badly??
David thought he had worked with his team to minimize resistance to change. He said he had implemented the things I have talked about previously i.e. the RIV model:
- Reasons: he believed his team knew and understood the reasons for the new process. It was part of the company's drive to get employees to take responsibility for their role in the bigger business picture and improve the company's brand and reputation. That would translate into new, and importantly, repeat sales and loyalty. He had told them this in the weekly team meeting.
- Implications: David said that he told them about the change in work process at the team meeting, then asked them to identify and think about the implications and consequences of the new process.
He asked them to raise any questions, their ‘what if's' and any fears. As very few questions or concerns had been raised, David believed that the team was comfortable with the new way of doing things.
- Values: again David believed that the team would be comfortable that the new process fitted with their values.
He was confident that his team would be happy with any process that ensured the customer was satisfied with the way they and the company delivered on its promises.
So why was the team so reluctant to implement the new process?
When we asked the team members, they gave us a number of responses. For example, the work used to be done by another department that had just been closed down for ‘efficiency' reasons. The team felt they were just pawns in a cost cutting game.
They also said that their performance agreements were based on the number of sales they made so there was nothing in it for them to take the time to follow up with all the extra work involved, especially if the customer wasn't happy.
But some of the most interesting comments were about David. For example, "whenever we raise issues about work, David always promises to look into it and get back to us but he never does."
And this: "David told us about this new process one day before it came into operation. We just didn't have time to figure out how it would work and how we would fit it in."
One of the most revealing comments was this: "Well David himself doesn't agree with it. He told us that he thought it was a waste of time but that management said we had to do it."
David is a role model - for what?
What was David doing as the role model here? What behaviours and attitudes was he modelling? Has he sabotaged his own attempts to get his team following the new process?
Think about children. How do they learn what to do, what's acceptable and what's not? What will bring rewards, what won't?
Mostly it's about observation and copying. I remember a party and hearing the three year daughter of some friends saying to the child she was playing with: "I simply can't take this anymore" and slamming down her drink. Where on earth did that come from? All I know is that the mother turned bright red and the father looked equally as embarrassed.
Walk your talk
In the same way I remember the look on my mother's face and the tone of her voice when she said: "Do as I say, not as I do" in response to my cheeky responses like:" Why should I do that? You don't....." She knew I'd caught her out.
Whether we are at work or at home, our brains are always looking for shortcuts, for clues what to do and how to behave to ensure ‘survival'.
We subconsciously take our lead from those around us especially those who are higher up the pecking order. David has said he doesn't agree with the new process. He's the boss. So without thinking it's easy to just imitate. After all, he's the leader.
We call this vicarious learning where simply by observing what goes on around us our brain learns what will we enhance our quality of life, bring rewards, ensure in basic terms our ‘survival' and what won't.
If we see someone pick up a poisonous snake and be fatally bitten, we learn not to do that without having to do it ourselves.
If you see someone burned their hand on a barbeque plate, you know not to do it.
If you see someone at work being successful even though they are not adhering to the stated values like co-operation or teamwork or supporting the new work processes, then why wouldn't you do the same?
Mirror, mirror on the wall...
Mirror neurons may play a big role in this. We know that emotions are contagious. A sad or miserable person in an office can bring the whole mood of the office down. Just like a happy movie or upbeat music can change our mood and lift us if we are feeling blue. Why does this happen?
Way back in 1992, some neuroscientists working with monkeys discovered, by accident it seems, that when the monkeys observed a researcher eating an ice-cream, neurons lit up in the monkeys brain that mimicked the mechanical action of eating an ice-cream. The neurons fired as a mirror of what was being observed.
This research has been replicated in humans many times since. I know that you can think of examples. E.g. if you are watching a movie, the TV or in real life, do you wince when you see something painful happen to another person? I do it all the time when I'm watching rugby and see a heavy tackle. So does the crowd - even been there and part of a big ‘oooooowwwwwwhhhh'?
And I cringe if I hear someone say something sarcastic to a colleague. Because of our mirror neurons, our brain ‘feels' what the other person is feeling. It's not surprising that mirror neurons are sometimes called empathy neurons.
As a manager, you are always on show
The critical message for us as managers is that when we have to bring about changes in the behaviour of others at work (or at home for that matter) we need to be actively conscious that subconsciously our team's mirror neurons are watching us for information about how to behave.
We should also remember that if we are inconsistent in what we say and what we do, our employees' amygdalae will register the discrepancy and start working out what's the best course of action to take to ensure ‘survival' in the work environment.
Unless our staff is actively engaging their pre-frontal cortex, the logical and rational response, then without thinking they are likely to take the apparently proven route - i.e. to behave like the boss. And given how busy people are and how much pressure we are all under, we should not be surprised when people act just like us.
David was his own saboteur
As soon as David realized all this brain activity was going on, he realized that he was sending all the wrong subliminal messages about behaviour to his team.
If he didn't follow up on issues his own team raised with him, then what messages was he sending them about following up with customers especially as they perceived it to be an onerous task with no reward.
If David said he thought it was a waste of time anyway, what was it that his team's empathy neurons were figuring out? Probably that you don't have to agree with what management wants and you can still get to manager level. So why bother. The fad will pass anyway.
What do you do to reinforce the kind of behaviours you want in your team? Are you consistent with the messages that you deliver? Do you believe in what you want your people to do? Do you model the customer service behaviours you ask of them in the way you treat your staff?
They're not called mirror neurons for nothing. Go find a mirror and see if what you see is what they get.