Articles & Publications

By Alexandra Levit |
Published: December 12, 2013

build better relationships at work

According to Judith Glaser, the CEO of Benchmark Communications and the author of the new book, Conversation Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results, the key to success in life and in work is to prime your brain for trust, mutual respect, and partnership. Based on advances made in the neuroscience field over the last decade, Glaser’s framework involves understanding what kind of conversations trigger the lower, more primitive brain, and what kind activate higher-level intelligences such as integrity, empathy, and good judgment.

I asked Glaser for a few examples of how neuroscience affects the way we handle challenging workplace relationships and how we can leverage our brain’s natural tendencies to better these relationships, and here were her top tips.

Our Brains Are Designed to Be Social

The need to belong is more powerful than the need for safety. Rejection activates our fear networks and increases the levels of cortisol, which move us into protect behavior. Focus on being inclusive and using physical and verbal touch in order to reduce the level of cortisol and increase the level of oxytocin, which promotes bonding.

Appreciation Reshapes Neural Networks

Appreciation activates a large framework of neurons that are part of the functions of sight, hearing, and perspective. It enables us to see more broadly and think bigger. Better your relationships by focusing on appreciating others’ perspectives even if you don’t agree.

Activate the Mirror Neuron

Empathy activates the mirror neuron network located in the prefrontal cortex, or the Executive Brain. When we are mirroring each other, we are capable of seeing and experiencing the world through each other’s eyes. This elevates the level of openness, and we become more comfortable sharing what’s really on our minds.

Uncertainty Destabilizes the Brain

When we are uncertain, our sense of reality is disturbed. This makes us question the personal beliefs that anchor us safely in our conversations and relationships. We may even start to distrust ourselves. Focus on aligning your beliefs with others. Rather than fighting to prove you are right, create safe conversational spaces to get grounded again.

We Move Toward Pleasure and Away from Pain

Humans are hardwired for protection. Our brains instantly respond to signals of threat and we move away to protect ourselves. Conversations that threaten us cause us to retreat, resist, and recoil from engagement. Focus on making it safe to talk with you. Notice when you are sending threatening signals and refocus, redirect, and reframe instead.

When Both Players Have to Win, Both Lose

When we win, we receive a neurochemical cocktail that rewards our brain and makes us feel wonderful, powerful and important. As a result, we get addicted to being right. However, realize that the more you insist on being right, the more resistance you will create in others. You will create a pattern in which people are less likely to listen to and trust you in the future.

Conversations Are Warm or Cold

Our brains sense warm and cold as signals for opening up or closing down. Research shows that when we bring warmth into our conversations, we elevate trust instantly. When we judge others (i.e. coldness), we instantly trigger distrust. Focus on noticing how you communicate through the senses of warm and cold in your conversations. Prime the conversational space for warmth and connection and notice how your relationships change for the better!


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