When Your Brain Lies to You

Crazy inventor helmet for brain research

I’ve had several conversations lately about people who are “addicted to being right”. I think we all know someone (and can all fall into this trap). One client I spoke to shared of a lost business as a result of two partners who had become polarized in their opinions. At first, it was differences of agreement, and progressed to the point where they no longer speak to each other. As a result, an otherwise sustainable company went bankrupt.

When we get into this framework of protecting our opinions, we stop listening fully – if at all. The results in business are devastating – including increased conflict, sick time, staff turnover or in the worst case scenario, the breakdown of the team. The curious thing is that given an ordinary day, most of these players are intelligent people who let their views cloud their realities – and we wonder how they can be so blind.

So what’s happening in the brain? When we feel “justified and right” our brains are pumping out dopamine known as “the reward chemical”, a neurotransmitter that is also released when individuals snort cocaine. So, as we are yelling, telling and selling our point of view, our brain is sending out a natural high…how can we possibly be wrong when it feels so right? So as the brain and our body experience that feel good chemical, it re-enforces that we must simply be right.

It’s when this pattern of behaviour – imposing your views on others while shutting down your listening, often triggers the other person to experience amygdala hijacking – they will fight, flight, flee or freeze. At this point, both parties are no longer able to communicate – neither listen, nor respond with trust.

If you recognize this pattern of behaviour in yourself, there are many things that you can do:

  1. Breathe. Learn relaxation and calming techniques.
  2. Be courageous and let the person know you are trying a new behaviour.
  3. Challenge yourself to ask questions vs. make statements.
  4. Breathe and listen fully to the other person.
  5. Hold your opinion for later. Just engage in listening fully.
  6. Reflect back what you heard them say to ensure that you were really listening.
  7. Get executive coaching to help you become aware of your triggers and to learn new ways to communicate that create respect, collaboration and trust.

Once you are able to shift how you listen, the other person is more likely to feel respected and will be more open to hearing your viewpoint. The challenge is to take the risk and accept responsibility to make personal change first. Not easy, and definitely worth the true reward of increased trust, improved relationship and better productivity.

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