What does brain-friendly sound like?

© Borisovv Dreamstime.com - Magnifying Ear PhotoWhen thinking about what to write about this week, I thought it made sense to continue the thread from a post from two week’s ago, “What’s all the fuss about brain-based coaching,” that continues from an earlier post, “So you really think you’re brain-friendly.” People can sometimes think they are being brain-friendly or using a brain-based coaching approach when, in fact, they are being more directive than they realize OR creating what I call “unnecessary threat.”

A critical idea

One of the essential ideas we work with is from Evian Gordon’s work (previously cited). It involves what he calls “the brain’s primary organizing principle: minimize danger and maximize reward.” If there is one idea our work is built on, it is this idea.

When teaching people about a brain-based approach, the brain’s primary organizing principle can be easily misinterpreted or misapplied. People (teachers, leaders, managers…) think we need to eliminate ALL danger.

First of all, that is virtually impossible. Secondly, we don’t need to eliminate ALL danger. We need to know how and when to work with “danger.” Here’s one approach:

  • First, we need to understand the nature of how the brain responds to danger
  • Then, we need to understand how danger is created for the brain
  • Next, we need to understand when danger is helpful and when it is harmful
  • Continuing on, we need to pay attention to how we are working with danger and reward in our moment-to-moment interactions based on what we are trying to help others achieve
  • Finally, we need to adjust in the moment based on what is actually happening for the person in front of us (whether danger or reward is being triggered in the desired amounts relative to our focus)

And since all of this plays out when we are interacting with each other (live, virtually, or electronically), it’s helpful if we have a map for what a brain-friendly conversation sounds like. Let’s listen in…

Manager: Hey Alex, I’d like to catch-up with you on Project X. It seems like all is on track. I simply need to provide a brief update on it to management. I’d like to find out what’s going well and what else you recommend based on the current state of the project. When would be a good time for us to connect and about how long do you think that would take?
Worker: Oh, OK. It probably shouldn’t take that long, maybe 15 or so minutes. Can we do it later in the week?
Manager: I need to provide the update by Friday so is there time before then?
Worker: Sure, I guess I can make Thursday work.
Manager: Excellent, what time? The morning is pretty wide open.
Worker: How about 10:00am?
Manager: That works. Is there anything you need from me to make this meeting most productive?
Worker: I guess what it is that you want to cover.
Manager: Mainly how complete we are on the project and anything we need to anticipate to make sure we bring things in on time and on budget.
Worker: Well, there is one issue we are having.
Manager: OK, thanks for giving me a heads up. Let’s not get into it right now, if that’s OK. When we meet, I’d love to hear your thoughts on what we might consider doing to address the issue and any other thoughts you have or things you’re learning based on where the project stands.
Worker: OK, I’ll put some notes together.
Manager: Thanks. I’m looking forward to connecting Thursday morning.
Worker: OK, thanks.

You may be wondering, “What’s so brain-friendly about this? Why is this so long? Why not just say, ‘Hey Alex, I need an update on Project X by Thursday morning.’?”

Rather than simply GIVING you the answers, I’d love to hear YOUR thoughts:

  • Where are the potential “dangers” of this request?
  • How/where is the manager minimizing threats?
  • How/where is the manager offering rewards?
  • What brain needs is the manager addressing and how/where?
  • Any other thoughts, questions or connections?

In other words, how brain-friendly are you? (Danger! Danger! Danger!)

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