Want to Get Your Point Across Better? Try These 4 Tweaks Straight Out of Neuroscience

Visit this page often for news and previews of what you’ll experience and learn at the 2014 IABC World Conference.

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By Maria C. Hunt, IABC Staff

It seems like there’s one in every office: the coworker who loves to pounce on your idea and rip it apart before the thought has cleared your lips. And when you try to explain what you meant, it seems like they’re not even hearing you. So you give up and stop sharing ideas in meetings.

Amy Posey has some ideas on how you can get that coworker to play nice – or at least nicer — and start listening. The secret lies in neuroscience, the study of the way our brains and nervous systems function. Posey is a pioneer in applying the insights of neuroscience to workplace communications and leadership.

“There are these little behavioral tweaks you can do… to open up the super highways to people’s thoughtful brain,” says Posey, a change management and communications consultant at Peak Teams in San Francisco. “A big part of leadership development is communication.”

When the insights from neuroscience are applied to our interactions at work and home, Posey says they can help us be more effective in the way we communicate and inspire people to do what we want them to do. It’s a useful skill for people who are in management, but everyone can benefit.

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Amy Posey

“Everyone is a leader, whether it’s by formal title at work or the activities you do outside of work,” says Posey. She’ll share how insights into brain chemistry and science can help people communicate more effectively at the IABC World Conference 8-11 June in Toronto.

Neuroscientists spend a lot of time studying the amygdala, an almond-shaped area deep in the brain. It’s considered the seat of motivation, the part that processes basic emotions like fear and sensations of pleasure. Sounds, sights, aromas and words can the brain to light up in different ways, producing positive or negative emotions and physical responses.

“The brain is the new focus and focal point for scientists,” says Posey. “We’re going to be hearing a lot more about it in the next five to 10 years.”

That coworker who slams your ideas? It’s not that they hate you necessarily, but they feel uncomfortable with new ideas and when they hear one, their rational brain goes on alert. And their amygdala launches a threatened, fight-or-flight response. The brain releases adrenaline, norepinephrine and cortisol and they try to shoot down your ideas — and the messenger.

And the way it seems like they can’t even comprehend your explanation? Posey says their brain literally cannot process what you’re saying with all those chemicals racing around.

“The amygdala takes resources like glucose and oxygen away from their rational brain, so they’re not acting rationally,” says Posey. “They’re acting to preserve their safety.”

Before they can hear you, they need to calm down and feel safe. The smarter approach is helping people feel secure before you introduce a new idea, says Posey, who’s pursuing an executive master’s degree in neuroscience from the NeuroLeadership Institute.

She shares four simple neuroscience-based techniques to help you get people at work  — and at home — to open up and listen so they can cooperate and collaborate with you:

1. Help them feel safe.
An easy way to do this is to get people to share accomplishments they’re proud of this week or month before you introduce a new idea. Helping them feel good is positive priming that Posey says puts them in the frame of mind to listen.
2. Chat them up.
It seems trivial, but chatting with coworkers about the weekend and the weather, or sharing a joke helps people bond together and feel connected emotionally. When people feel safe, the brain produces oxytocin, the same feel-good chemical that bonds lovers or babies and mothers. It also makes it easier to find consensus in a meeting.
3. Frame what you want people to do in a positive way.
“Say ‘let’s be on time’ rather than ‘let’s not be late,’ ” says Posey. When your statement starts with a negative, it starts those chemicals firing off in the brain and it makes it hard for the person to hear anything else you’re saying.
4. Focus on goal achievement and check in.
Instead of ranting about OMG, this house is such a mess, Posey says it’s more effective to say “let’s make sure we have the house clean by the end of the day.” That way you have a shared goal and a deadline. Research shows that posing requests this way gets people to comply 50 percent faster.

For more information about Posey’s talk at IABC World Conference, visit the program page.