“ Everyone wants to do better. Trust them. Leaders are everywhere. Find them. People achieve good things, big and small, every day. Celebrate them. Some people wish things were different. Listen to them. Everybody matters. Show them.”
………… From the book ‘Everyone Matters’
Why do negative comments and conversations stick with us so much longer than positive ones?
Feedback from a manager, a disagreement with a colleague, a fight with a friend – the sting from any of these can make you forget a month’s worth of praise in a second. If you’ve been called lazy, careless or a disappointment, you’re likely to remember and internalise it. Sometimes we can hold on to this stuff for ages and we find it hard to let go. We somehow find it easier to forget, or discount, all the times people have said you’re great, hard-working or that you make them proud.
Chemistry plays a big role in how we take on feedback and react to it. When we face criticism, rejection or fear, our bodies produce higher levels of cortisol – a hormone that shuts down the thinking centre of our brains and activates the flight or fight mode.
We become more reactive and sensitive. We often perceive even greater judgement, threat and negativity than actually exists. We start to run negative scripts in our heads and blow things out of proportion. And these effects can last for 26 hours or more, imprinting the interaction on our memories and magnifying the impact it has on our future behaviour. Cortisol functions like a sustained-release tablet – the more we think about our fear, the longer the impact and more damage it can do to us. Sustained periods of stress, driven by the release of cortisol, have been proven to contribute too many illnesses. For managers we need to be mindful of the impact this can have on our teams.
Positive comments and conversations produce a chemical reaction too. They spur the production of oxytocin, a feel-good hormone that raises our ability to communicate, collaborate and trust others by activating networks in our prefrontal cortex. But oxytocin metabolises in our bodies more quickly than cortisol, so its effects are less dramatic and long-lasting. Positive comments will also produce other ‘happy’ chemicals in our bodies, such as dopamine, endorphins and serotonin.
Apparently, these are the four ingredients to much of our happiness (EDSO).
Simon Sinek talks about The “happy chemicals” in his book Leaders Eat Last. These are known as EDSO (endorphins, dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin). These chemicals, when properly balanced, enable us to function to our full potential.
1. Endorphins block pain and enable us to “power through” to reach a goal. Think of a “runner’s high.”
2. Dopamine is the goal setting chemical, enabling us to focus on an end result and producing the thrill of accomplishment when it is reached.
3. Serotonin is the selfless response we feel as pride, especially valuable in that it encourages us to push hard to make those who sacrifice for us proud. This encourages leaders to sacrifice for the good of the group, and the group to strive to please the leader. We are not drawn to selfish leaders, but to those who appreciate and acknowledge the work that others do to help them reach their goals.
4. Oxytocin is love, friendship, hope, and joy. It is the happiness we get when we are able to perform an act of generosity with no expectation of receiving something in return. Oxytocin is also produced by human contact; it is why we shake hands and pat each other on the back. People with more oxytocin are better problem solvers, are healthier, and live longer.
Good leadership removes barriers like fear and the need for self-protection, which trigger cortisol and close down collaborative, cooperative responses. When those barriers are removed, the EDSO chemicals work in tandem to boost creativity, improve health, speed thought processes, and increase productivity.
Great leaders inspire this response, by acknowledging and appreciating the work done at their request. This ‘chemistry of conversations’ is why it’s so critical for all of us – especially managers – to be more mindful about our interactions.
Behaviours that increase cortisol levels reduce a person’s ability to connect and think innovatively, empathetically and creatively with others. Behaviours that spark oxytocin can do the opposite.
We are not suggesting that you can’t ever demand results or deliver difficult feedback. But it’s important to do so in a way that is perceived as inclusive and supportive, thereby limiting cortisol production and hopefully stimulating oxytocin instead. Another piece of useful science, the Losada Ratio, suggests that to get optimal performance you need to provide a ratio of six bits of positive feedback for every one developmental bit of feedback. Be mindful of the behaviours that raise cortisol or oxytocin.
So what behaviours as a manager encourage the creation of oxytocin?
* Providing positive and specific praise, celebrating success
* Showing concern and compassion for others
* Being truthful around what is on your mind, coming from a place of good intent
* Stimulating discussion and curiosity, being open to difficult conversations
What behaviours raise cortisol levels?
* A lack of positive feedback and recognition, a deficit focus on people’s performance
* Putting pressure on people to perform, without providing them with the right level of support
* Acting in an untrustworthy manner, having corridor conversations and not taking things back to the source
* Not listening to people or being curious, making judgements about people
Care about the people – Everybody Matters!!!! Harness the chemistry of conversations.