Friday, January 30, 2015

Woman not afraid anything even danger due to rare genetic disorder

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

Is it performance review time? Your brain thinks its a mammoth and it probably is

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

'I just need to concentrate'

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

4 Tips for Leaders to Minimise Fear, Maximize Trust

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’:

Be present
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

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!

Pattern interrupter

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

Do you sabotage your own change management?

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:
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.