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Is your Brain Hooked on Being Right -Judith E. Glaser HBR

Is your Brain Hooked on Being Right

When we experience stress, fear or distrust cortisol floods our brain and our executive functions which once helped us with advanced thought processes like strategy, trust building, and compassion shut down.

What happens instead is our amygdala, aka,  (instinctive brain), takes over, and we default to one of four responses: – fight (we keep arguing the point) – flight (revert to, and hide behind, group consensus)- freeze (disengage from the argument by shutting up)- appease (make nice with your adversary by simply agreeing with him).

Whilst all responses can be harmful to communications,  the fight response seems to be by far the most common and damaging to working business relationships.

After winning arguments, our brain floods with chemicals: adrenaline and dopamine; these make us feel good, and dominant – even invincible,  hence we want to replicate these feeling as often as possible, and this leads to us recreating the  “fight” response in any other similar situations. Whilst leaders may be extremely good at fighting for their point of view they may be completely unaware of the damaging impact this behavior can have on the people around them.

However, there is another hormone that can elicit a similar feel good response: oxytocin.

Oxytocin is activated by human connection and it opens up the networks in our executive brain, or prefrontal cortex, further increasing a person’s ability to trust others.


Some tips for increasing Oxytocin levels when communicating with others

(1)  Set rules of engagement.  Have everyone suggest ways to make meetings  and conversations both productive and inclusive –write down these ideas down for everyone to see. These practices should counteract the tendency to fall into harmful conversational patterns. 

(2)  Listen with empathy. Make conscious efforts to speak less and listen more. The more you learn about other peoples’ perspectives, the more likely you are to feel empathy for them.

(3)  Plan who speaks. In situations when you know one person is likely to dominate a group, create an opportunity for everyone to speak. Ask all parties to identify who in the room has important information, perspectives, or ideas to share. List them and the areas they should speak about on a flip chart and use that as your agenda, opening the floor to different speakers, asking open-ended questions and taking notes.