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ICYMI: Better Business Communication & The Brain

Last week, I had the privilege of presenting at the Kent State University Spirit of Women in Business Conference about business communication and the brain. The key takeaway? We shape each other’s realities on a neurological level, and the language we use — both with ourselves and with others — is very powerful when it comes to navigating professional relationships and achieving desired business results.


Cognitive processes are at the base of communication. They happen at an individual level but our brains actually interact with other people’s brains on a scientific level too, even when we are not face-to-face with other people. The better the listener understands the speaker’s story, the stronger the similarity between their two brains. In other words, when people really understand each other, their brain responses begin to look the same.


Coupled brains can create new phenomena and shape the communication styles and actions of individuals in social networks. This allows us to trust our counterparts enough to create new things together, come up with new ideas, and drive innovation. This is why it’s so important to continue to meet virtually, take the time to connect and network with each other, and foster relationships even as we continue to be socially distant and Covid-compliant. Without trust and connection, our brains literally become less creative and less innovative, and the ability to relate to each other decreases.


Other people can absolutely shape us, but what about us as individuals? The language we use with ourselves can be a powerful tool. We usually think of it as something we use to relate to others, whether it’s for persuasion, creating connection or relaying information. But we can also use it to subconsciously influence our own individual behavior. It’s why we read "The Little Engine That Could" to our kids and repeat, “I think I can, I think I can,” and then we grow up and say, “I think I can’t, I think I can’t.” We tell kids they can do anything they put their mind to, but we tend to forget that affirmation as adults.


How we talk to ourselves can be really impactful — especially when repetition is used, like in "The Little Engine That Could." If we’re unaware of what we are saying to ourselves and to others on repeat, we might be contributing to negative patterns and outcomes without even realizing it. Mindfulness, defined by Psychology Today as “a state of active, open attention to the present,” is often viewed as this kind of abstract touchy-feely practice reserved for yoga studios and meditation retreats. But there’s a growing body of research showing the benefits of mindfulness, from increased ability to manage stress to positive effects on workplace performance and more collaborative workplace relationships.


When we practice mindfulness, we become more aware of our communication patterns. Do we fall back on filler words? Do we tend to make up stories in our heads to explain why we weren’t selected to run point on a certain project or why we weren’t invited to a certain meeting? Practicing mindfulness can help us come back to the present moment, notice our patterns, and communicate more clearly. If you weren’t selected to run a project, ask for clear feedback as to why. Instead of making up a story, you’ll receive real, constructive information that will help you grow and improve. Or, you might learn that the project is simply out of your department’s scope. Better to know than to make it up!


Research has found that mindfulness in the workplace improves employee focus, attention, and behavior. More specifically, mindfulness has been shown to improve stability, control and efficiency when it comes to paying attention, which is important now more than ever as we continue to deal with unprecedented distractions in our work from home environments. Also, from a neurological perspective, Harvard Medical School researchers have documented that mindfulness meditation can actually change the brain’s gray matter and brain regions linked with memory, the sense of self, and regulation of emotions. All very important qualities for connecting with colleagues, effectively discussing professional matters, and making sound business decisions.


So as we continue to navigate work and life amidst a global pandemic, remember that being aware of our communication styles and patterns, along with being mindful and intentional about the language we use and the stories we tell, can help shape our days and our business results in a positive way.