By Geoff Henderson, Head of Operations and Performance
Emotions are triggered even for the most routine of encounters. But they’re significantly amplified when the stakes are raised, for example when you meet new colleagues or clients whom you are expected to form close working relationships with.
According to Dr Connie Henson, Principal of Learning Quest and co-author of BrainWise Leadership: Practical neuroscience to survive and thrive at work, some common negative emotions that surface in these situations include feeling threatened, a fear of rejection and other forms of anxiety.
“Most people are concerned about how new colleagues or clients will perceive them. Will they accept us? Will they think well of us?” says Connie. “And just as importantly, will we like them?
“Recent studies in neuroscience have shown that when people feel left out, rejected or judged negatively, they experience social pain. This activates the same regions of the brain as when they feel physical pain. That’s why we can literally feel ‘gut punched’ when a trust is broken.
“By the time we become adults, everyone has experienced social rejection and loss at some point in our lives. We know it hurts and naturally try to avoid it.
“This contributes to our hesitancy when meeting new people; we don’t know how they will react to us and we don’t want to feel rejection at any level. This results in at best some hesitancy to connect or at worst avoidance behaviour.”
The good news, says Connie, is that there are a range of simple techniques derived from neuroscience that you can use to circumvent these communication obstacles.
1. Name your emotions
According to Connie, the best way to deal with these negative emotions is to name them. “Scientists have found that by briefly verbalising or writing down how we feel enables us to use language to connect the feeling and thinking parts of our brain,” says Connie. “Recognising and labelling an emotion – rather than trying to suppress it – frees up your mind to concentrate on communicating with the other person.”
2. Schedule a few quick catch-ups
Schedule a few brief meetings with a break in between. “Our brains like predictability,” says Connie. “Even the simple expectation and repetition of saying hello the second time to the same person is calming to the brain and helps to quickly increase our comfort levels and feelings of familiarity.”
3. Look for similarities
When you’re in a state of anxiety, Connie says your brain is primed to find differences and be critical. “We can mitigate this tendency by deliberately focusing on similarities or areas of mutual interest,” says Connie. “Finding connections reduces activation in the part of the brain related to anxiety and actually helps us to think more clearly.”
4. Keep healthy
Neurologically, your brain needs TLC in times of stress; this is not the time to neglect your health. Exercise, adequate sleep, good nutrition and social activities help to reduce stress hormones that can impair your thinking and ability to cope with change.
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