Next time a colleague stops by your office, looks you in the eye and inquires after your latest project, don't be so quick to brush off the inquiry as a waste of your time. Results from neuroscience research suggest that such workplace conversations may help grow your brain.
The science of office conversation will be discussed during a one-day conference entitled "Engaging Minds: How the Brain Connects at Work to be held in Toronto, on October 23 and hosted by Adler International Learning" (www.engagedmindsconference.com). This conference will explore new findings in the field of neuroleadership which applies scientific understandings of how the brain works to the development of leadership skills.
"We now know that neuroplasticity, or the ability of the brain to adapt and change, is aided by what we call collaborative, contingent conversations." says Dr. Linda Page, founder of the Adler International Learning and co-author of the book Coaching with the Brain in Mind.
And what are collaborative, contingent conversations? They are dialogues in which people are fully present. That means they're not only listening to the speaker's words, they're also attuned to their tone, physical expression and energy. "Engaging in these kinds of conversations stimulates neural connections in the brain's prefrontal cortex, which is associated with better social interaction," says Page.
Brain science has long established that highly-attuned interactions with children are vital for stimulating their neural connections, which is how the brain grows. "Newer research indicates that these principles also apply to adults," explains Page.
But often at work we aren't fully present in an interaction. Instead, we operate on automatic pilot. Page says our conversations may be clouded by our preconceptions and expectations, or we're caught up in offensive or defensive communication strategies. As a result, we don't hear and see in a way that truly connects with others. "Without full engagement during an interaction, we aren't making as many connections as we could in our brain," she adds.
Interestingly, Page notes that engaging in attuned conversations stimulates not only your own brain, but also that of the person with whom you're interacting. When people recognize that they're being heard at a profound level, they experience increased engagement, insight and empathy, all of which originate from the pre-frontal cortex.
In playing peek-a-boo with a baby, we intuitively adjust our voice, body language and behavior according to the baby's responses. For example, if a baby begins to show signs of distress, we adopt a soothing tone and soften our look. Because we are fully present in the interaction, our awareness of the other is heightened. As a result, the baby remains engaged and mentally stimulated.
While we do not (typically) play such children's games with our colleagues at work, Page stresses that the adult brain can benefit from give-and-receive interactions with colleagues, friends and family. Conversely, she says, a part of us disengages when such conversations don't happen. "We start to feel like a number or a category, not like a whole person."
Page says Adler International Learning's Positive Change program, which has been translated into several languages, combines neuroleadership with positive psychology and positive organizational behavior studies (which emphasize people's strengths), to teach leaders more effective ways to interact in the workplace.
"Leaders recognize that attuned conversations are the most powerful and direct way to strengthen and sustain performance and to create a collaborative culture. The evidence that these conversations fully engage minds and maximize potential is accumulating rapidly."
Page's book Coaching with the Brain in Mind, published by Wiley, is co-authored with David Rock, who is the keynote speaker at the Engaging Minds conference. For more information, visit www.engagedmindsconference.com.
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