Judith E. Glaser is the CEO of Benchmark Communications, Inc., and the Chairman of The Creating WE Institute. Her book Conversational Intelligence is set to come out in October 2013.
Our brains are designed to be social. Our need for belonging is more powerful than our need for safety. Rejection brings on the same pain in the brain centers and body as a car crash. But, when we are shown love, respect and honor, it triggers the same centers in the brain as when we eat chocolate, have sex or are on drugs. Learning this will change how you lead.
From birth, we learn to avoid physical pain and move toward physical pleasure. Over time, we learn to avoid pain to protect ourselves from ego pain, building habits and patterns of behavior that keep us safe from feeling belittled or embarrassed.
At work this may translate into avoiding a person who competes with you when you speak up, to avoiding a boss who sends you silent signals of disappointment.
Pain can also come from what you anticipate — not from what is real. If you imagine that expressing annoyance to colleagues will lead to an argument, just the thought of having that conversation will produce the social pain of being rejected.
The feared implications of pain become so real for us that we seek avoidance, since confronting a person with a difficult conversation may lead to rejection or embarrassment. Our emotions are tied directly to feelings of pain and pleasure — in fact they are the source of pain and pleasure.
When does all of this imprinting start? It’s actually hardwired and through our interaction with our environments, our beliefs about the world about relationships and about joy, happiness or pain become layered into our brains and hearts – teaching us who to move toward and who to move away from.
Truth Be Told
Children raised by parents who positively shape a child’s environment with appreciative and value-based conversations become more optimistic about life and more self-confident. Children who grow up in punitive and judgmental environments tend to be less positive about themselves and more judgmental about others.
Those who grow up in families where they are loved, where they learn to discover their strengths and are challenged in positive ways, tend to be very healthy of mind, body and spirit and lead healthier lives.
Many illnesses associated with toxic work places can be reduced by focusing on the “feel” of the conversational environment that we create for our employees. This suggests that mentally healthy people will have a strengthened immune system, affording them increased protection against disease.
We have two types of reactions in conversations – one causes us pleasure, and one causes us pain. Appreciation is pleasure; negative judgment is pain.
How can you create the conversational space that affords deeper understanding and engagement rather than fear and avoidance? Be mindful of your conversations and their emotional content — either pain or pleasure.
Are you sending the message “you can trust me to have your best interests at heart” or “I want to persuade you to think about things my way”?
Being aware of these meta-messages, you create a safe culture for open, candid, caring conversations, allowing all parties to interact at the highest level, sharing perspectives, feelings, and aspirations, while elevating insights and wisdom.