Conversational Chemistry

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Brain science can help leaders understand how to have great conversations.

That’s one important message I learned from reading the work of Judith Glaser. Glaser, an executive coach and author of several business books, including Conversational Intelligence, describes the kinds of conversations that activate higher-level intelligence such as trust, integrity, empathy, and good judgment.

One of Glaser’s important insights is that our conversations create biochemical reactions—in ourselves, and in others.

It starts at the “moment of contact,” she says, between one person and another.

To make this work for you, it’s helpful to read Glaser’s work, to understand the neuroscience behind our interactions. But for starters, here are a few conversational rituals any leader can adopt to deeply connect with others, in a way that builds trust and creates the kind of team where people share ideas, and work hard for the common good.

1. When meeting new people, greet them warmly.

Meeting a new person can be nerve-racking. Research into brain chemistry suggests that when a person feels rejected their fear networks are activated, increasing cortisol levels and leading them toward protective behaviors. Says Glaser, “A sense of inclusion reduces protective cortisol levels while increasing oxytocin and promoting bonding.”

2. When brainstorming with a diverse group, show appreciation for different perspectives. 

According to Glaser, “Appreciation reshapes our neural networks, activating a larger framework of neurons in our brain that enables higher levels of seeing, hearing, and thinking broader and bigger.”

3. To be persuasive, start by listening with empathy. 

Empathy engages the mirror neuron network located in the prefrontal cortex, says Glaser, allowing us to see and experience “through each other’s eyes. This activates higher oxytocin production, which facilitates bonding, collaboration and co-creation and elevates trust and openness.” Glaser says when we feel that trust and openness that comes with oxytocin production, we are more comfortable sharing our honest thoughts.

Read more about Judith Glaser’s work at her website.

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