When you interact with others (staff, clients/customers, colleagues, family), do you leave people feeling in a positive state or a negative one? Do they feel that you have their best interest at heart? While your professional knowledge and expertise are necessary ingredients to your success, how you interact with others is also a critical factor. That’s because how we make people feel directly impacts how influential we are with them. We need to focus on mitigating threat (causes people to move away) and maximizing reward (causes people to move towards). Let’s look at a model that will help you incorporate brain friendly strategies into your everyday interactions.
CONNECT™ is a brain-based model that identifies basic needs that, when met, create a reward state (through the release of feel-good chemicals such as dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins) and when not met, trigger a threat response (activation of the amygdala - a part of our brain that gets competes for our attention, especially when in a threat state). And when the amygdala gets more of our attention, that means that the pre-frontal cortex (the part of our brain that we use for more complex thinking and responding) gets less attention. So it is critical to work success to learn strategies that minimize threat and maximize the ability of our thinking brain. Below are the 7 elements of the model.
C = Consistency, something the brain craves. When the brain encounters something that it has predicted, feel-good chemicals are released (and that's rewarding to the brain). Change is inherently threatening and causes a threat response in the amygdala, so be mindful of providing people with adequate information and lead-time so they can be better prepared. Be clear on expectations so people know what you want and/or are asking of them.
O = Ownership. No one likes being told what to do – it triggers a negative response. But if people feel they have a choice and that they are given some autonomy, it is motivating. So find opportunities to let others feel a sense of control by, for example, letting them decide how to do something or on making a decision. Tell people more of the what than the how.
N = Novelty: While change is inherently threatening and boredom shuts down creativity and motivation, a state of curiosity is rewarding. Novelty and challenge create a reward state in the brain that causes people to feel intrinsically motivated, making it more likely that they will want to achieve their goals. Interestingly, our brains like to fill in gaps so if we provide partial positive information, such as: “Do you know that the 5 steps you can take to achieve a more balanced life?” we can help create a state of curiosity. Asking open-ended questions that get people to consider possibilities is another way. These questions often begin with “what if?”
N = Need to Know: Understanding the meaning, purpose and/or significance of one's actions is inherently rewarding. The brain searches for meaning every time we encounter something new. If you ask people to do something and they don’t understand the “why”, it can trigger a threat state. Helping them establish challenging and meaningful goals that they can then see themselves making progress towards is highly motivating. It is a critical factor affecting job satisfaction and positive affect at work.
E = Equity: Not everything is equal, but perceptions of inequity trigger the disgust center of the brain and make it difficult to focus. People want to feel that things are fair – providing explanations about how you arrive at decisions and holding everyone to the same expectations goes a long towards creating perceptions of equity. Additionally, when people feel that their social “status” is less than that of others (we frequently, and often unconsciously, compare ourselves to others), it causes a threat response. So be careful to avoid making comparisons between people (such as staff).
C = Confidence: Feeling a sense of competency and capability enhances self-esteem, which creates a reward state in the brain. Situations that cause a lowering of our self-esteem and confidence trigger a threat response. Help boost self-confidence by providing adequate training and instruction, by acknowledging what people are doing right (rather than focusing more on what they do wrong), and ask what the person needs to be successful.
T= Trust: As part of its focus on survival, the brain has evolved to quickly form in-groups (you are part of my tribe and therefore, you are safe) and out-groups (you represent a potential danger). Because it takes relatively little to form these in and out-groups, it is common to find silos in the work environment, which lead to problems with collaboration and cooperation. One of the best ways to create a greater sense of in-group (trust), is to help people connect to their common goal (such as providing the best care we can for our patients).
Learn the CONNECT™ model and put it into practice so that you can create a more brain-friendly environment for your people.
Catherine Hambley, PhD, is a consulting psychologist who offers brain-based strategies to organizations, leaders and teams to improve their effectiveness and promote greater success. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org