Positive conversations make us better collaborators

neuroscienceHave you ever had a negative conversation with a boss that stayed with you for weeks, while you forgot a compliment from a colleague almost instantly? There’s a reason, say Judith Glaser and Richard Glaser in their recent post on the Harvard Business Review blog “The Neurochemistry of Positive Conversations.” Our brains are hardwired to remember negative events longer and more profoundly than positive ones.

The reason, they say, is simple: Cortisol, the hormone produced when we are stressed, takes longer for our bodies to metabolize than oxytocin, the hormone produced in positive interactions.

“When we face criticism, rejection or fear,” write Glaser and Glaser, “when we feel marginalized or minimized, our bodies produce higher levels of cortisol, a hormone that shuts down the thinking center of our brains and activates conflict aversion and protection behaviors. We become more reactive and sensitive. We often perceive even greater judgment and negativity than actually exists.” These effects of cortisol can last up to 26 hours, meaning that they leave a stronger, more lasting impression on us.

Behaviors that produce the feel-good hormone oxytocin, on the other hand, make us more apt to collaborate with and trust one another, and increase “a person’s ability to connect and think innovatively, empathetically, creatively and strategically with others.” But the effects of oxytocin don’t last as long.

This information is especially relevant for managers who want to build cohesive, creative, collaborative teams. The post identifies five behaviors that managers can practice in interactions with employees to increase oxytocin levels:

  • Show concern for others.
  • Be truthful about what’s on your mind.
  • Stimulate discussion and curiosity.
  • Paint a picture of mutual success.
  • Be open to difficult conversations.

Two sessions at IABC’s World Conference earlier this month also looked at ways that neuroscience can inform how we communicate. Check out previews of their sessions for more on this topic:

Jessica Burnette-Lemon

Jessica Burnette-Lemon

Jessica Burnette-Lemon is CW’s senior editor.

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