Which Brain is Driving your Conversation?

In July 2017, Judith Glaser’s seven-month Conversational Intelligence program culminated with an in-person graduation event in New York City. Vista Global Coaching & Consulting joined over 200 coaches in New York plus hundreds of other participants live-streaming from across the globe.

2017 Conversational Intelligence event in New York. Photo by: Mary Stelletello

As a group, participants spent the majority of the day in a brain simulation exercise to help us synthesize all seven modules through experiential learning.

Each table explored the five parts of the brain.

  1. Heart brain
  2. Primitive brain
  3. Limbic
  4. Neocortex
  5. Prefrontal Cortex

The simulation provided us a deeper understanding of the nuances and patterns of each part of the brain, how they interact, network and integrate.

The importance of communication beyond mere words is not a recent discovery. In 1967, Albert Mehrabian isolated three elements that play a role in effective communication. In terms of importance, people allocate 55% to nonverbal behavior; 38% to tone of voice and just 7% to words. In another study conducted by Professor Uri Hasson at Princeton University, he found that successful communication was noted when the speaker and listener brains showed the same patterns of activation. Their brains were synchronized.

“Co-creating Conversations have the power to literally rewire our brains.” — Judith Glaser

The Five Brains

Heart Brain

The heart brain is the most basic of our wiring. It syncs like Wi-Fi. The heart brain has 89 nodes that blood goes through and it reads chemistry and other components necessary for health. It sends messages all over the body and brain. When the rhythm and timing of the heart is a smooth wave it sends calm messages. When it is erratic, you can’t send messages beyond what is immediately demanding your attention. If you slow down, breathe intentionally in and out, not only through your lungs but your heart, you are able to connect with other hearts neurochemically that are within 10 feet of you.

To connect to the heart brain in a positive way, as soon as you come in contact with someone, prime them for trust by saying hello, shaking their hand, send positive intentions their direction. This opens the brain up to the other person to synch with this positivity.

Primitive Brain

The primitive brain is the oldest brain, it is hardwired to sensor threats and protect us from harm to our body or ego. In .07 seconds our brain determines if someone is a friend or foe and acts accordingly. Whether you go into fight, flight,  freeze or appease mode, the primitive brain is only concerned about protection. You will not have access to any higher functioning thought when the primitive brain is activated.

Using the skill of “double clicking” supports the shift from the primitive brain. Words create worlds and if the primitive brain is activated in a conversation, there was a trigger word or nonverbal message. Use “double clicking” to ask, “what does that mean to you? Or “what was the meaning of that nonverbal expression?” It allows the primitive brain to move from fear and distrust to a place of curiosity, understanding to establish safety.

Limbic Brain

The limbic brain stores all of your emotional experiences. It is the part of the brain that deciphers, “where do I fit in”. It reads social context and scans for exclusion and inclusion in a community. It provides the emotional continuum for moving toward or away from others.

Using the skill of “listening to connect” is to not judge, confirm or reject but listen with a focus on the other person, not you. It is more than listening to understand, which is often to confirm what you already believe. By connecting to their emotional world, you will foster greater inclusion and exploration of a co-created path.

Photo source: Conversational Intelligence® for Coaches

Neocortex

The neocortex is hardwired for language, storing information, basic thinking, reasoning and cognitive skills.  It holds our working memory and our stored memory.   The brain has the capability for simultaneity, being in steady state and change at the same time.

To activate the neocortex, use the conversational skill of “asking questions for which you have no answers”. When you ask these types of questions, you are in a discovery mindset and the other person feels the curiosity. It puts the person in a more trusting and receptive state of mind. Together you create a conversational space for a completely new reality to emerge.

Prefrontal Cortex

The youngest brain is the prefrontal cortex and often is called the “executive brain.” It is hardwired for the higher-level coordination of the whole brain. It provides us with mastery of more complex functions such as the ability to envision the future, create scenarios, step into someone else’s shoes, experience empathy, think strategically and make decisions.

The skill of “conversational agility” activates the prefrontal cortex.  If a conflict is brewing, the prefrontal cortex recognizes patterns.  By using “reframe, refocus and redirect” it enables people to interrupt patterns, accessing new energy, for insight and wisdom to emerge.

Whole Brain Access

How often do you experience or witness your team being stuck in the primitive or limbic brain, not able to access the more expansive, creative and innovative areas of your neocortex and prefrontal cortex?

With just a few minor shifts in using Conversational Intelligence tools, you can transform the level of trust and quality of your conversations which in turn can move you to the next level of greatness in your organization.

Interested in how C-IQ can help improve your leadership skills or your organization’s team? Contact Mary to set up a  customized workshop session and more.

Stay tuned for more C-IQ tips! This is part of a blog series on Conversational Intelligence course by Judith E. Glaser. Check out related blogs such as “Asking Questions for Which You Have No Answers” and “Moving from Distrust to Trust.

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