Your emotions are setting the standards in your business because the performance of your team is like a mirror of your inner state of consciousness.  If you want to change their performance you need to change the way you are thinking about it.

The way you feel is being scrutinised on a day to day, if not on an hour by hour, basis by your people because their brains are hyper-sensitive to it.  It is not personal; it’s just the way human brains are wired. 

It was only as recently as 1995 that the Italian Neuroscientist Giacomo Rizzolatti at the University of Parma discovered ‘mirror neurons’ and they have opened up a rich understanding of how human beings connect with others.

Understanding intent

One of the surprising things about mirror neurons is that they only light up if we see someone perform an “intentional action”; that is an action with a specific intent behind it.  Rizzolatti discovered that when we see someone do something with ‘intent’ like pick up a glass of water to drink from it, mirror neurons throughout the brain light up.  The same mirror neurons will light up again when we take a drink of water ourselves.  You can observe this at meetings; if one person takes a sip of water a number of others will do likewise and it can be very interesting to notice who is following whom.

Random actions don’t have the same effect.  It seems that mirror neurons are a way of understanding other people’s intent, their goals and objectives and as a result feel connected to them.  They help us get an intuitive understanding of other people’s goals.  It is also interesting to note that many scientists now think that mirror neurons are connected to Autism and new studies are showing that the ‘mind blindness’ of people with varying degrees of Autism or Asperger’s Syndrome show damage to mirror neurons.

It is important to recognise just how hyper-sensitive our brains are to social interactions.  The neuroscientists have recently discovered that four out of the five main processes acting in the background when your brain is at rest, involve thinking about other people and yourself. 

So, what are the implications of this for you at work? 

Well, how clear are you about your intent when leading and managing your team?  If you are very busy with lots of conflicting priorities, don’t be surprised if your team are a bit confused or lacking focus.

When you smile your people will smile with you, if you are confident your people will feel more comfortable and secure.  But if you are tense, stressed or anxious your people will feel it, if not consciously, it will be a below-conscious awareness and this can erode their morale, confidence and performance.  

Contagious emotions

Studies show that the strongest emotions in a team can rapidly ripple out and spread like a contagion so everyone resonates with that emotion without consciously noticing that it is happening.

What are the strongest emotions in your team at the moment?  Are they positive optimistic emotions helping people to succeed, or are they negative pessimistic emotions hindering people by increasing stress and anxiety?  Are you influencing them or are you being influenced by them?  Are you helping or hindering performance with your own emotions?

The key to all of this is better self-awareness.  The more aware you are of your own emotional state and the impact it is having on your relationships, the more you can do something about it.  All the cutting edge research into effective leadership and management is now exploring how the ability to improve our thinking about our thinking can produce dramatic results.

It’s all about relationships

The brain responds to social needs using the same neural networks as basic survival, like the need for food and water.  Being hungry and being rejected or ‘left out’ activate the same pain and threat to safety responses.  A feeling of relatedness is a primary reward for the brain and if there is an absence of relatedness it generates a primary threat.  In fact our default nature is to see everyone as a potential ‘foe’ until we get some positive cues that we perceive as ‘friendly’. 

As readers of previous articles in this series know, the primary threat response activates the limbic system or ‘old mammalian brain’ and makes it very easy to misread social cues.  A joke becomes a slight, a slight becomes an attack and an attack becomes a battle.  This can rapidly erode trust and be the end of productive working relationships.  

Think about the last time you went to a party or networking meeting where you didn’t know anyone.  Your brain gets into a heightened state and may even create a false perception of a threat where none exists.  This makes it difficult to interact with others.  As soon as someone you know arrives, your stress levels will drop.  If they then start to introduce you to others so you can share a bit of small talk and explore common ground, your brain releases an interesting neurochemical called oxytocin.  This is one of the happy chemicals and it helps communication and collaboration, it is the same chemical a small child experiences when she makes physical contact with her mother. 

In his excellent book ‘Your Brain at Work’, David Rock explains that when two people dance, play music together or engage in collaborative conversation and share thoughts, emotions and goals the oxytocin that gets released creates ‘safe connectivity’ and this helps people ‘get related’. 

Studies with surgical teams in intensive care operations show significant improvements in team work, even when they have only met for the first time, when people know each others names and job roles.  This improves even more when people know something about each other’s personal life.  Once again it creates relatedness.

So, what are you doing to improve the working relationships within your team and the relationships your team has with other departments or groups?  How are you creating opportunities for them to get related?  The success of your business may depend on it.

Stepping back for a moment

The intensity of work and the stresses of an ever-increasing workload can inhibit our brains from consciously noticing the subtlety of what is going on and we can lose sight of our relatedness to others in our drive to get everything done.  You may not notice it until you get people complaining about each other, or when it’s too late and your staff simply leave.

Don’t neglect the basics.  Are you giving your people some quality time to step back and review how they are doing – or if you are up for it – how they think you are doing as their manager?  Are you doing regular appraisals?  Are you asking them about what is going on for them and what they want to get out of their job?  This is the oil in the machine and if you neglect it you may find things begin to overheat or even cease up completely.

It’s not only about your staff.  Making time for yourself to step back in order to consider your own emotional state and how you feel about the various relationships at work can be a valuable investment.  It’s about recognising the subtle feelings and intuitions you have about people and what they trigger in you.  It’s about making time to listen to the quiet voice inside, the voice that David Rock calls the ‘Inner Director’.

By raising your awareness you can respond more effectively to what is going on rather than just reacting to a surge of neurochemicals and old emotional triggers.

A simple and very effective way to raise your awareness is to practice some basic relaxation for only a few minutes per day.  Once you have learned a couple of techniques to relax you can make them your own and use them at any time to step back for a moment.  This means you will be able to access your ‘inner director’ more easily and gain powerful insights about the best ways to improve working relationships and therefore performance.

As part of this series of blogs there are two free downloads of a simple relaxation exercise that you can download from our website; Click on the link below and follow the instructions

If you would like to know more about how to improve working relationships in your team or learn about our robust yet practical system for avoiding common problems and driving performance to the next level please contact Amanda on [email protected] to arrange a no obligation call to discuss your needs. 

Remember . . . Stay Curious!

With best regards

David Klaasen

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