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Is Reality Just a (Communication) Construct?

The words we use and the stories we tell shape our realities. Have you ever stopped to consider what kinds of words you use when you’re presenting information or bringing an idea forward? Have you ever thought about how that idea might land differently depending on your audience? Last week, I had the opportunity to present at the first ever General Motors Women Global event, centered on brave conversations and communicating with clarity. I spoke to more than 300 women and allies across the company, and across the globe, about some of my favorite things – mindfulness, communication, and navigating challenges. Below are three key takeaways from my talk.


We shape each other’s realities at a neurological level.

Our brains interact with other people’s brains even when we are not face-to-face with them. This phenomenon is called brain-to-brain coupling. It simplifies individual actions within a social network, leading to complex joint behaviors that could not have emerged in isolation. This is why we brainstorm and have virtual white board sessions, and why we used to chitchat in the office kitchen, and grab coffee together.


During a conversation, 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. This is particularly important when it comes to global communication. With language barriers and cultural nuances, it can be really easy for things to get lost in translation, both literally and figuratively. If we take the time to slow down and make sure our message is being received correctly, it can make a huge difference not only in the way we relate to each other, but also in how we navigate business challenges and achieve our goals.


Without mindfulness, we might be contributing to negative patterns and outcomes without even realizing it.

Mindfulness is defined by Psychology Today as a state of active, open attention to the present. 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. 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.


The ability to notice our communication patterns and communicate clearly and effectively is essential in business, particularly as we communicate with counterparts across teams, cultures, and geographies. In fact, clear, effective communication is consistently rated as a critical factor in making an executive promotable (even more important than ambition, education and hard work, according to the Harvard Business Review).


Sometimes, meaningful communication means having tough conversations.

At the end of the day, we are humans, not just employees, and we will all be met with challenges and different points of view throughout our careers. When you find yourself in a challenging situation at work, you can use the “Rumble Language” prompts from Brené Brown’s Dare to Lead program to help navigate tough conversations. Using prompts like “I’m curious about…” and “tell me more,” along with the others in this list, help to invite honest and respectful conversations. It’s definitely a challenge sometimes, but it’s so important to stay curious and generous, own our parts, and listen with the same passion with which we want to be heard.


Questions about any of the above or want to learn more? Email me at jamiemaniloff@gmail.com.