This month, I had the opportunity to co-lead a training session on better business communications for my team. The team is pretty large (think hundreds), diverse in every sense of the word, and quite collaborative. We spend a lot of time interacting with each other without realizing we're shaping each others’ experiences at a neurological level.
The brain is often thought of as an individual control center that sends signals about tactical functionality. We get up in the morning and switch to autopilot, somehow putting on the coffee and ending up at our respective offices. We do this morning after morning, without much conscious thought. But when we interact with others, our neurons actual start to fire together.
This phenomenon is called brain-to-brain coupling, which refers to how our brains shape actions on an individual level within a greater social network. This leads to complex joint behaviors that could not have emerged in isolation. In other words, our brains align in a way that allows us to create new things together. This is why we tend to brainstorm with our colleagues, have collective white-boarding sessions, and feel pulled to “bounce an idea” off someone we trust. It’s science.
The field of neuroscience suggests that these joint behaviors work both ways, meaning that individual behaviors influence the greater group and vice versa. On the individual level, this is why we give ourselves pep talks. Talking to ourselves in any other fashion isn’t exactly accepted as a social norm, yet the “pep talk” narrative is engrained as socially acceptable (take this infamous scene from American Beauty, for example).
On the group level, this is why we are so affected by the behaviors and language of others. Our days can be derailed by a tense interaction or uplifted by a thoughtful one. If we view communication in this way, as a series of events affected by social signals and social interactions, we can use language as a tool to influence our own individual behavior and collective group behaviors.
It all boils down to mindfulness, which not only improves focus but increases the ability to manage stress and positively affect how employees work together. In fact, researchers at Case Western found that although mindfulness is an individual quality, it affects interpersonal behavior and workgroup relationships. Siegel's Triangle of Well-Being does a great job illustrating this idea (see below).
So the next time you find yourself trying to solve a problem at work, chatting with a colleague, or sending an email, take a second to think about the influence you have. Through practicing mindfulness, we can help train our brain, improve relationships, and ultimately do better in business.