Remember your last argument? Neither of you remember how it started or what it was about and before you know it it’s off to the races.
Twenty minutes later a great comeback pops into your head … Aha! “Damn, I wish would have said that instead. Why couldn’t I think at the time?”
Because of Lizard Brain and our brain’s hard wiring, did you know we cannot manage our emotions?
The good news is we can learn to manage our behavior and respond instead of react to our emotions. The bad news is it is harder than we think. The good news is “practice makes permanent.”
A complaining customer, a whiny child, an out of control teen or a grumpy boss, at some point we all lose our cool. People push our buttons and we feel irritated, frustrated, overwhelmed and sometimes we just explode. Or, we hold it in, tell ourselves it’s no big deal, it doesn’t matter what I do, it won’t make a difference what I say, so I’ll say nothing and pretend it’s okay and march on (a recipe for stress-related disease).
Either way, we feel regret, shame, and humiliation at how we’ve just lost our temper again. Here come the “should’ve-s”: I should’ve known better, stayed calm, counted to ten, remembered what happened last time I lost my temper. Lizard Brain makes it impossible to act on the should’ve-s, and here’s why.
What is Lizard Brain?
The part of the brain responsible for survival, our amygdala, an almond-shaped area at the base of our brain way down deep and part of our limbic system, otherwise known as “fight or flight central” still exists, even though we are no longer running from saber toothed tigers. Otherwise knows as “reptilian brain” or “Lizard Brain.”
The good news is our brain has evolved since we were cave dwellers. Today, humans have complex language, use tools to make and fix things, and send people into outer space, due to the evolution of the Pre-Frontal Cortex. But before the “thinking” part of the brain evolved, our reactions were dictated by Lizard Brain.
Despite the existence of the Pre-Frontal Cortex and our ability to reason, in response to stress (even perceived stress), our limbic system goes into high gear and our fight, flight or freeze response gets activated. This is an automatic, instinctive reaction and there’s no thinking or deciding involved.
Triggers might be his/her yelling or icy stare and can often include what I call Universal Lizard Brain Words such as (hands on hips, finger wagging eye rolling optional): Why did you …? You always or You never …! You should… No!
Our limbic system has been triggered and Lizard Brain is now in charge. We feel emotionally hijacked and now our “thinking brain” is rendered helpless. These triggers can bring up strong emotions (i.e., pain) from the past right into the present moment, as if it’s happening all over again. The Lizard’s primary responsibility is to protect us from perceived harm. The Lizard has now jumped into the driver’s seat and we are in the back, a passenger hanging on for dear life, yet the road is oddly, comfortably “familiar.”
How come Lizard Brain happens repeatedly to highly intelligent people? Because it’s not about IQ or an inability to learn from past mistakes. It’s just the default wiring of our very human brain.
The Lizard Brain(LB) switches off the Thinking Brain, or the Pre-Frontal Cortex (PFC), where reasoning, understanding happens and which explains why your aha! moment after an argument comes later in time, probably after a few deep, belly breaths when the reactive
Lizard Brain is no longer driving the bus and your Pre-Frontal Cortex gets the oxygen it needs to regain control. It’s a myth that if we understand “why” we react then we will automatically be able to respond calmly next time our buttons get triggered. The rational PFC can’t always prevent the LB from engaging, it’s out powered and just not that evolved. It is impossible to “not feel” a feeling. Not a weakness, just wiring. So, stop trying.
What’s the Good News?
The good news comes from recent scientific discoveries that our brains aren’t hard and set like concrete at age three, which is what neuroscientists (brain researchers) believed until very recently. Neuroplasticity is the good news. Our brains can and do make new connections and build new neural pathways by the millions every day, most of which we are not even aware of …. Scary.
How? By changing your habits and creating new neural pathways, the process is actually quite simple. Becareful not to confuse the two – I said simple, but not easy. Change is hard, but not impossible.
Pick one person or situation that triggers your Lizard (the holidays are coming up, it won’t be hard family gives us ample opportunity to practice).
Begin by simply noticing opportunities to recognize Lizard Brain as it creeps up on you or identify situations where Lizard Brain gets triggered.
Next, we’re going to create a new habit or neural pathway.
1. Notice the pattern – Simply become an observer of the pattern, as if you are watching from the sidelines. What has to happen to trigger your own, your partner’s or your bosses Lizard Brain? Describe the pattern sequence to yourself or someone else. Do you react to “Lizard Brain Words?” If so, which ones? Do you use them with others? Notice what happens when you replace a judgmental Why did you …? question with a sincere question, for instance How do you see it? When asked with genuine curiosity, words such as What or How land differently than Why and allow you to create more productive pathways in your brain (and his/her brain).
2. Acknowledge the emotion – Use your powers of observation without judgment (ban the should’ve-s). Notice the opportunity to acknowledge the emotion without feeling you “should” change it, stop it, or judge it as “bad” or “wrong.” Instead, see what happens when you respond with an emotion such as curiosity and words such as “Mmm, interesting …” (with your eyebrows up, please!). See if you can get a little distance and prevent an emotional hijack by observing the conversation, as if you were a bystander.
3. Rename the feeling – Label or rename the feeling (not the person, not their motivation, not their intention) as “sad, scared, hurt” instead of ANGRY. Anger is actually not a primary or real emotion, it is a secondary emotion, just a “safer” feeling and often hides primary emotions such as Sad, Scared or Hurt. When we believe someone is angry, our LB gets activated and we can feel defensive. When we can re-label anger as “Sad, Scared or Hurt” or a combination of those feelings, the part of our brain responsible for empathy is engaged, the Lizard can get out of the driver’s seat and our thinking brain can work again.
Practice makes perfect and new neural pathways. Changing our behavior or learning to do something new takes awareness, intention, action and practice. Just like when you learned to ski, ride or play the guitar. There’s no way around it.
By understanding a few simple facts about how our brain works and making small adjustments to the words we use and practice.
Hint: Just the act of imagining yourself taking these steps will create new neural pathways because our brain doesn’t know the difference between what’s imagined and what’s real), you can create new habits and stay cool under pressure, lower your blood pressure and, as crazy as it sounds, begin to see conflict as an opportunity for practice (and have a little fun, too).
Christina Haxton, MA LMFT is the Chief Potential Officer & Founder of Sustainable Leadership. An executive coach, business consultant and speaker, Christina assists busy business owners, high potential managers, executives and CEOs to achieve successful work/life balance and peace of mind to become exceptional leaders who are built to last. For more information about leadership training or presentations for your team, meeting or conference, contact Christina at firstname.lastname@example.org or (970) 387-8935.
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The words you choose as a leader, or in any position of influence, shape the identity of others and as a result their decisions and actions. Successful business owners and senior managers, are able to communicate in a way that is authentic and inspiring, not only shaping positive results, but also creating an environment where employees feel satisfied, happy and excited to come to work each day. This article is written for senior leaders who happen to be women. However, my executive coaching clients who are of the male persuasion tell me they (sometimes secretly) find this advice extraordinarily relevant and helpful when it comes to being a successful, Sustainable Leader.
It’s common knowledge in business what is required in order to be considered a “strong leader” or “respected boss”, however leaders who are women find the ingredients to be a successful leader somewhat, ok extraordinarily, hypocritical.
Do any of these Rules You Need to Follow To Be a Respected Leader sound familiar? If you have ever followed them mindlessly, no worries, because what’s admitted here stays here, okay?
“Leave your feelings at the door when you come to work …”
“Don’t let them see you sweat …”
“Strong men are authoritative. Strong men are respected. You need to act like a man to get respect around here. Oh, and by the way, when you act like a “strong man” you will be called a b***h!”
Wait, keep following these rules and it will get worse, not better …
Did I mention the stress you will feel as a result of pretending or faking it … “acting as if” how you are showing up is who you really are and is in alignment with what you believe you need to be…to be successful?
Unfortunately, when you pretend to feel one way and act another, you will quickly be perceived by others as distant, inauthentic and untrustworthy. Probably not what you are going for … Find out how to break the rules with professionalism and be an authentic woman leader: Read more over at ManagingAmericans.com[sharebox5_no_border] [/sharebox5_no_border]
My first opportunity to consciously stand up for my professional and philosophical beliefs about Professional Intimacy occurred in 1994. In the last year of my Master’s program, my thesis involved research on the process of creating a successful business partnership.
Using Appreciative Inquiry, our process resulted in a model of a synergistic triangle consisting of three equally key ingredients, where 1 + 1 = 3 (I was never good at math, but this makes sense … read on):
In the early 1990′s the unspoken, unwritten rule in the business world was “Don’t Talk About Relationships, feelings or any of the soft, fluffy stuff humans were made of when delivering leadership or management training or when speaking to businesses, managers or executive leaders about improving productivity or performance. I was directed to leave that stuff at the door and talk about “real” skills. Don’t feel … just get to work!
I followed this advice for a while and felt my hands (and credibility) were tied behind my back.
Then I ignoring that advice. After 12 years in business, our design resulted in not only building our own successful business and partnership, but also served as a model for our clients to build sustainable partnerships.
Through the process of developing Professional Intimacy as defined in my thesis in 1994 and even to this day, I continued to learn and grow both intra-personally and inter-personally as a result.
The truth is this: We learn and grow in relationship, not in isolation. Following the old rule and disregarding the complex and dynamic relationship systems we create through all of our relationships, however brief, is ridiculous.
Here’s the point: My thesis was nominated for publication in the college journal … an honor, for sure. However, the committee stated it would only be considered for publication only if I changed the title.
They objected to the phrase I used to symbolize our design for a successful business partnership: Professional Intimacy.
Because sexual harassment in the workplace was such a touchy (pun intended) topic in the early 90′s, the committee frowned upon my use of the phrase in the title. I stood my ground on principle because even though the rule was “Don’t talk about RELATIONSHIPS and WORK in the same sentence.” I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) in good conscience back down. Besides, I have a strong oppositional reflex.
I ran across the dusty, bound thesis years later and wondered …
“Did I do the right thing in standing up for my values?”
“Would my career path have changed had I decided to belly up?”
“Would I have been able to help more people sooner?”
I suppose I’ll never know… What would you have done?
PS. Check out Chapter 19: “Professional Intimacy: The key to being a Sustainable Leader” in the book “The Character Based Leader: Instigating a leadership revolution one person at a time” on Amazon or your favorite bookseller.
Great Bosses & Horrible Bosses
For just a moment, remember your favorite boss. You know, the one you said
you would follow anywhere if he or she ever left the company. The boss for whom you came in early and stayed late for to meet a promised project deadline. How would you describe his or her overall mood? How did you feel when you were working for him or her?
Now, remember the boss you would never work for again in a million years. The boss you worked really hard to avoid being in the same room with for longer than necessary. The boss you had when hiding under your desk or in your closet was not beneath you. How would you describe his or her overall mood? How did you feel when you were around him or her?
Surprised? Probably not. Now, here’s the tough question:
If I walked in the front door of your office or showed up at your next team meeting, how would I describe the mood of the people who work for you?
Neural Wi-Fi: Peas & the Interpersonal Neurobiology of Leadership
Pretend for a moment you are spoon feeding peas to a baby sitting in a high chair. What do you do? As you are putting the spoon to her lips, what do you subconsciously do with your mouth (whether you like smooshed peas or not) … You got it, you OPEN your mouth and make an aaahhhh sound, in a sometimes desperate attempt to get her to do the same. Why? It works most of the time. Instinct. Mirror neurons.
The truth is, recent research in brain science proves that for humans (and I’ll add chimps and horses), emotions are actually contagious because of mirror neurons. The short explanation is mirror neurons in our brains are responsible for our “catching” the mood of other people without realizing it. Add to that fascinating fact that our brains are prediction machines and constantly are making connections to predict the future based on our past experiences. Your grumpy boss could be in a good mood on Friday, however your brain won’t realize it and will automatically predict (or believe), he’s his usually grumpy self.
E-motion = Energy in Motion
Why does this matter for leaders, bosses or other people of influence? If you can believe that your mood is reflected in the mood of your team, you may or may not like what you see in the “mirror.”
What? … So What?… NOW WHAT?
While you may read this and understand or you are reading it for the first time and think Wow! that makes sense, what’s the “So What?” Understanding is overrated. It does not automatically lead to action or doing anything differently tomorrow. Unless you make a commitment to take action and the more accountable you are publicly the greater the odds you harness the action potential of your Aha! moment and transfer it into action. Feel free to consider using the ACE approach to change:
1. Awareness: Notice your mood. Notice the mood of others. Label the feeling (without judgement is the key).
2. Choice: How do you like what you see in the mirror? If it’s what you want, keep going. If it’s not what you want, what choices do you have in the moment?
3. Execution: What is one small action you are willing to take in that moment? You don’t have to effect change on anything, just take action to make it different.
4. Repeat #1 What information did you gather? What choice do you want to make now? What action will you take next? Just like directions on shampoo, rinse, lather and repeat.
Accountability: What are you willing to do in the next 24 hours to recognize and change the effect you have on the people in your company? If you have the courage, feel free to post your commitment in the Comment box below. (If you are not quite that brave, feel free to email me directly. All responses are strictly confidential!).
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(Original post written for LeadChangeGroup Blog by Christina Haxton, MA LMFT)
Your behaviors are a result of your feelings … which are a result of BS!
Believe it or not, that’s good news …
Because there IS one question you can ask yourself to turn STRESS into PEACE …
Find out what this question is (and the other 20 Ways Managers & Leaders Can Eliminate Workplace Stress) on a free webinar:
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Watch your language!
To eliminate “lizard brain” (the emotional hijack caused by stress) avoid asking questions like “Why did you ..??” “WHY can’t you …?” “WHY don’t you …?” “WHY?” not only results in the listener feeling defensive, but also rarely matters when we are looking for solutions to a problem.
A better question effective leaders ask begins with “what” or “how” and helps people think. One example is asked with genuine curiosity (remember to manage your frustration first) … “What did you hope would happen by doing XYZ?”
Then, if you want people to trust you, shut up and listen.
To get the other 20 Ways to Eliminate Leadership Stress for You AND Your Team, click the link below to register for a free webinar:
Stress causes more than just physical symptoms. Did you know stress in the workplace erodes trust, productivity and creativity of you and your team?
Discover 21 Ways to Eliminate Stress to be able to do your best work, feel happier and more satisfied at the end of the day (and help your team do so, too!)
You know them: the managers who ignore the fact that human beings don’t (actually can’t) “leave their feelings at the door” when they come to work.
These managers ignore conflict and avoid confrontation, especially when there’s a “pot-stirrer” in the office and everyone is just wishing the boss would step up and put and end to he drama so we can all just get the job done.
This boss will suffer the consequences: a slow, painful erosion of the trust … or worse.
Read the rest of my article over here: Leaders: Do you lead, manage or are you just in charge?
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Why we turn into workaholics: Innovation, inspiration & creativity inspired by teamwork IS addictive! http://blogs.hbr.org/video/2012/06/the-molecule-behind-effective.html?utm_medium=twitter
Whether you see yourself as a leader (or not), have the title of CEO behind your name or have a corner office (or not), if you are in a position whereby you are responsible for managing and motivating others, you are a leader.
The fact is, no matter what our title is, all people experience stress (and to a certain degree we need stress to get motivated into action). Yet, have you ever felt overwhelmed, irritable, frustrated, exhausted or have difficulty focusing? How about physical symptoms of stress: having difficulty sleeping, increased or decreased appetite, using alcohol or prescription medication to reduce anxiety, panic attacks, high blood pressure … there’s many more.
But here’s the thing: Stress will diminish your brain’s capacity to solve problems, think creatively, make decisions, learn, reason and understand another person’s perspective? And to make matters worse, did you know stress is contagious?
Left unchecked, even low levels of chronic stress will not only reduce your ability to solve problems and make decisions, your stress will reduce your team’s productivity and engagement.
If you would like to Discover 5 Practical Solutions to Eliminate Leadership Stress, join me on Thursday, May 10th for a free webinar.
· Learn the latest discoveries in neuroscience (or brain science) about the strengths and limits of your brain (which alone might scare you into making some drastic changes in how you work).
· Discover why saying “it’s just stress” can be the end of your career more quickly than you think.
· Realize how your stress negatively impacts creativity, productivity and motivation, both your team’s and your own.
· Know how to make 5 simple changes in your day so you can get more done, more efficiently in less time than ever before
· Realize which words we use daily in our communication with others that create “fight or flight” reaction in others and which 4 words to use instead to motivate rather than deflate.
· Learn about a unique type of stress leaders experience and a brain-based solution to eliminate feelings of responsibility and helplessness that come with the job.
There will be an opportunity to submit your questions about the topic of stress and leadership prior to the workshop, as well as an opportunity for Q & A at the end.
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(originally posted at Lead Change Blog)
Whether you are a newly promoted manager, recently hired executive or have been in your position for some time, odds are if you are not ahead of the game, you may make one or more of these potentially costly mistakes:
What it looks like: You are the “new person on the block” and there is an unspoken awkwardness between you and your team. A sense of the “unknown” and maybe even some mistrust, depending on whose shoes your are filling and how he or she performed.
Our very social brains “circle” each other, feeling out the other person. Sounds creepy? No, it is normal for our mirror neurons to want to “see” the other person and attempt to predict what you are going to do or say next.
Yet, in this process and especially under stress (i.e., the unknown future), our brains often anticipate the worst case scenario, like “He’s too quiet … just like the last boss and we don’t know what he’s thinking … maybe he’s going to fire us all.” Or “She hasn’t asked us how we have been doing things well around here for years … she’s going to just do it her way no matter what we say.”
I have seen more senior leaders and CEO’s have two year old temper tantrums than my own children did at two. Why is this? My experience has been more senior executives get referred for performance coaching than mid-level managers due to their inability to manage their temper. Is it because top executives are unwilling (or unable?) to manage their emotions? Is it because they don’t see a need to do so and the stress builds up along the way until you explode? Or are managers more afraid of losing their opportunity for promotion if they show their frustration, and are therefore more proactive?
My guess: It is becoming increasingly difficult to manage the overwhelming responsibilities and variables inherent in the Top Dog position. Richard Boyatzis, author of Resonant Leadership and numerous research articles in area of Leadership Developement, describes “Power Stress” as a unique stress experienced by leaders who in addition to their everyday stress, feel additional responsiblity for the welfare and well being of others: employees, shareholders, etc. The cost of failing is higher, therefore the stress is higher. Stress results in dis-ease … put those two words together and you’ll get the wake up call physically in the form of high blood pressure, heart problems and other stress-related conditions.
Because of the mirror neurons described earlier, when you are come into the office with a scowl or bark at your staff or worse yet use sarcasm or criticism as a management weapon, because emotions are contagious, you’ve just infected everyone you come into contact with. Now your staff are “carriers” and spread the negativity like the flu to others, including your customers.
Have you ever noticed it’s easier to pay attention to what people do wrong than what they do right? This may be for several reasons. First, because our brains are hard-wired to notice the negative more readily and easily (especially under stressful conditions). Second, noticing the negative and ignoring the positive may have been learned. By this I mean your belief that your team doesn’t need recognition for doing their job, because that is what they are paid to do.
Research described in Amabile & Kramer’s book “The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins To Ignite Joy, Engagement, And Creativity At Work” demonstrates people NEED to recognize small progress and small wins. It truly is the little positive things that make a big difference in our internal world. Yet, ironically the small wins get overshadowed by the BIG screw ups (or even the little screw ups) we experience throughout the day both in our internal world or external environment. Small wins win BIG.
So focus on finding the small wins and acknowledging the progress we make is not a sign of weakness or patronizing … as long as it is genuinely felt and communicated.
What about the other mistakes not on this list? Yes, these are just the top three I’ve noticed recently with my coaching clients … what would you add to the list and more importantly what have you done to prevent or resolve the mistake?
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