Threat is a much stronger emotion than reward. Negative comments make us unhappy and can sometimes take weeks to get over. Negative comments shut down the prefrontal cortex, the same place in the brain that shuts down when we are under threat and our cortisol rises. So when your team member is feeling threatened based on the way you communicate with them, their primitive emotional brain will do all it can to protect them and may shut off and become less productive. Therefore, if we’re having a conversation with someone, we want to minimise threat and move them away from danger and towards reward. We can do this through the S.C.A.R.F model.
Status – Perception of you compared to others. We protect our sociometric status and have a strong desire to be liked. In order to survive we have been biologically programmed to aspire to a high status. As a leader, don’t undermine your team member’s status, but try and make them feel as a valued equal rather than a subordinate.
Certainty – Ability to understand what’s happening. Our brain uses fewer resources when we have clear direction and have clarity. When you’re in a leadership role, make sure you give people clear directions, a sense of certainty and open communication to any changes that may affect them.
Autonomy - A person’s brain will increase the threat response once they feel they have no sense of control or choice. Allow people to have control over prioritising their tasks, goals and even hours. There has been plenty of research done that shows autonomy at work has been linked to a surge in happiness and motivation.
Relatedness – We are social animals and an increase of relatedness to others releases oxytocin which enhances trust and forms relationships. Having shared goals with your team members and building rapport will foster strong relationships which will therefore minimise the threat response.
Fairness – All has to do with fair exchanges between each other. When team members perceive something as unfair, it generates a strong threat response in the brain releasing feelings of resentment and hostility.
Did you know that there’s this lump of fat buried deep inside your brain that rules the world? It’s called the amygdala. It holds the power to: Create wars, breakdown marriages and even breakdown communication at work. It's basically responsible for your emotions, how you behave and motivation levels. The key is to learn how to communicate to the other person's amygdala, to minimise the threat response.
How do I know all this? Well in 2016 I had the privilege of attending David Rock’s talk on Neuroleadership at KPMG in Sydney Australia. David coined the term NeuroLeadership and is the co-founder of The NeuroLeadership Institute, a global organisation that has helped many fortune 500 clients around the world make a paradigm shift in the way they lead. Besides consulting, coaching and training, the institute hires neuroscientists who go after big research projects and work with major labs in order to understand about what motivates the brain at work and how leaders can improve engagement by simply understanding the science behind it.
What David spoke about sounded pretty familiar from all the work I have been involved with in regards to NLP coaching and Leadership. However he used hard science to give it all a little more value and credibility.
David talked about how effective leadership mostly has to do with minimising the threat response in the primitive part of our brain called the amygdala. Apparently when managers give negative feedback or communicate ineffectively, it activates in the person receiving it, the part of the brain which deals with fight of flight. The more the person who is receiving feedback feels threatened, the more the cortisol in their brain increases and dopamine decreases. This leads to loss of engagement and motivation. So the goal is to create a safe environment where we minimise the threat response.
David spoke about 3 key things which can assist leaders in minimising the threat response:
1. Activate a Growth Mindset vs a Fixed Mindset
Growth mindset is about looking at people through a lens of potential. Believing everyone can get better. On the other hand, a fixed mindset is about boxing someone and taking on the view that they can never improve. Neuroscience has recently discovered that our brain is highly plastic. New behaviour can be learned and neural connections can be renewed at any age.
“You’re not a people’s person.” Vs “You’re not a people’s person yet.”
“I guess you’re just not good at technical stuff.” Vs “Looks like you’re on a journey to developing these technical skills.”
2. Minimise the Threat Response
Social and physical pain produce similar responses in the brain. Through the S.C.A.R.F model we can minimise both this pain and threat response.
3. Maximise Insight
Do you remember a training you went to about 5 years ago? You probably forgot most of the content but remember a key message. An insight that made sense to only you. Insight sticks in the brain and is really important when driving behavior. Rather than telling, use transforming questions to help people have their own insight. Questions elicit real behaviour change. Let the other person own the idea by asking the right questions. Get people to reflect on the future and create their own solutions. Good questions generate powerful insight and give people the autonomy to have choice and power over what they really want.
As a leader it’s vital to understand the way the brain reacts to threat and how to minimise it through effective communication. As a result you will get more engagement from team members and create an environment that fosters growth and positive change.
By Rana Kordahi © 2018
The more the person who is receiving feedback feels threatened, the more the cortisol in their brain increases and dopamine decreases.
Please feel free to share your thoughts and comments
Rana Kordahi - Founder and Director of Limitlessminds 14th January 2018