How the body brain works

May 14, 2020

Dramatic Change provides a unique opportunity for teams to explore their challenges in a safe environment. Here is a summary of connections with how the body brain works. 

- 3 Minute Read -

For centuries actors and directors have played with our emotions and what we think through the experiences they create in dramatisations, whether that’s on screen or in the theatre. These productions captivate audiences, bringing them back time and again to journey through their imaginations with a range of characters. Neuroscience is showing us more and more about how and why this works.  In part it works because how we feel, affects what we think which impacts what we do. Our ‘brain’ is comprised of connections throughout our body namely, the gut, the heart and the head. It is what we feel, often in our gut or our heart, that creates our emotions and it is those emotions that determine how we perceive an experience, what we think about it, and often how we react. 

Just like the scriptwriters, directors, and actors throughout the ages, we’ve used this to create a unique programme that alters the experience of a team in order to drive change. A Dramatic Change.

Why do emotions matter in the workplace? 
Believe it or not your body brain works the same whether you are in work, at home, or watching a movie. That means, whether you are aware of it or not, your behaviour at work is shaped by your emotional response. Even what we call ‘logical’ thinking is coloured by how we feel. When we feel good, when we trust others, its causes creativity and problem solving to flourish. But what about when we don’t feel so good? What about when someone says something that hurts our feelings? You’ve heard about ‘fight/flight’ right? How we respond to danger? Did you know you we can also ‘freeze’ in the face of it too? 

Interestingly, neuroscience has shown us these responses can be triggered by social threats as well as physical ones e.g. our brains experience social pain in the same way they experience physical pain. Why is that significant? Well, when you feel threatened your brain responds by putting all of its energy into actions that will minimize danger. In practise, that means oxygen and glucose from your blood are diverted from other parts of the brain to deal with it. This includes taking energy away from the part of your brain that processes working memory, which is important for decision-making and behaviour, and the area responsible for analytical thinking, creative insight and problem solving. Instead that energy fuels your ability for ‘freeze’ and ‘fight/flight’. It has also been shown we can also employ an alternative strategy and put that energy into ‘tending and befriending’ the potential attacker, a response that so far seems to be more apparent in women (Taylor, 2000)

Why does this matter in the workplace? Back in 2009, a coach named David Rock brought Leadership and Neuroscience together in his bestseller ‘Your Brain at Work’ (Rock, 2009). In it he highlights the social nature of high-performance in the workplace. He developed a model called SCARF to help us remember the five key areas that can create or eliminate threat in the workplace: Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness. This model is a great way to help all of us think about our own behaviour and whether we are using it to encourage others to shine or if instead, we are limiting their ability to think. 

A quick exercise to reflect on your interaction with your own team is to ask yourself: are you treating people in a way that makes them feel like an adult? Are you sharing what information you can to give them certainty and a heads up about what to expect? Or, if COVID-19 means you don’t know, sharing that. Do you allow for autonomy by offering choices to people or are you more “It’s my way or the high-way?”. Do you engender trust and empathy to create relatedness and do you maintain that trust by being fair? Perhaps most importantly, how would the people you’re thinking of say you’re behaving? 

Remember how we feel, affects what we think and what we do. And consequently, what we do, affects how others feel, what they think, and what they do. What we’re talking about is quite basic really. We need to recognise we are human beings, not human doings, and start leading both ourselves and others with humanity. Both on and off-line.

That’s easier said than done. Most of us can do it when we’re feeling good but when we’re under pressure, time-poor and facing constant change (and who isn’t these days?) it gets a bit trickier. That’s where Dramatic Change help. Our DC programme is designed to help teams trigger the flight/fight response in each other less and to learn how to respond more positively when they do. 

When we do that, we can more easily use the parts of our brain involved in decision-making, analytical thinking, creative insight, and problem solving. Exactly the parts we need right now. 

Read more about Dramatic Change and the alumni-driven story of it’s creators here

References

Taylor, S (2000). Biobehavioral Responses to Stress in Females: Tend-and-Befriend, Not Fight-or-Flight. Psychology Today, Vol.107 No.3), pp. 411-429

Rock, D (2009). Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining FOcus, and Working Smarter All Day Long. New York: HarperCollins


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