This article was based on episode 102 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio and Stitcher. Get $100 off the The JRNI Coaching Intensive which is a 20-week life coach certification for imperfect people to pursue their perfect calling and launch a coaching practice that makes an impact, when you become a member at www.themodernmanager.co/join.
We know from research and personal experience that feedback often makes people defensive, uncomfortable and emotional. Have you ever wondered what happens in the brain that explains this phenomenon and how to avoid it? By understanding the science, managers are better able to choose habits and behaviors that limit their employees’ negative emotional responses. The result: happier, more productive team members and greater team effectiveness.
Noelle Cordeaux, CEO of JRNI Coaching, uses her background in neurobiology and psychology to explain the science behind our response to various emotions. She also provides tips and suggestions for how to create a positive environment that brings out the best of your team members.
HOW EMOTIONS IMPACT BRAIN FUNCTIONING
When an employee feels threatened, their nervous system fires up, and they go into a fight-or-flight response. Cortisol surges through their body and lights up their limbic system, suspending their prefrontal cortex activity (the logic center of their brain). Simply put, when employees feel afraid, they have trouble thinking clearly.
On the other hand, in an environment filled with positive emotions and communal learning partnerships, an employee’s endocrine system springs into action, releasing all of the feel-good chemicals of oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin. This chemical production stimulates prefrontal cortex functioning and leads to an ability to think expansively and make better decisions.
HOW TO BEST APPROACH YOUR EMPLOYEES WHEN THEY MAKE MISTAKES
Feeling blamed is a key reason employees go into a fight-or-flight nervous system response. Noelle offers simple, alternative solutions to facilitate endocrine system reactions of feeling supported.
Use “What” Instead of “Why” Questions
The first critical tool Noelle encourages is the “what” instead of “why” framing. When something goes wrong or an employee makes a mistake, ask them, “help me understand what happened” rather than “why did this happen?” Using “what” externalizes the data. Instead of sounding like an accusation, you’re inviting them to share in your scientific exploration of what went wrong.
You can also use the “what” instead of “why” framing when a team member misses a deadline or doesn’t follow-through. Try asking “What’s going on that’s keeping you/the work from being where you/it should be right now?” The more traditional “Why didn’t this go as planned?” or “Why are you behind?” points the finger at them. Instead, the former helps an employee identify the problem and easily transition to being part of the solution.
Try Empathy Mapping
Empathy mapping is a process that helps you understand your employee’s perspective through intentional reflection. Spend a few minutes thinking about how your employee experiences the world. What experiences have they had? What pressures do they feel? What are they seeing, hearing and feeling right now?
From that place of compassion and curiosity, you can anticipate how they might respond. Then, when you speak with a team member who is underperforming try saying, “This is what I thought would happen when you were working on this project, but it looks like something else happened instead. Can you help me connect the dots from what I thought would happen to what actually happened?”
PRACTICE EMOTIONAL INTERVAL TRAINING
Making mistakes and taking risks can be painful for employees, particularly if they feel discouraged about their abilities. Noelle suggests helping your team members strengthen their emotional resilience by giving employees the opportunity to go out on a limb for a brief amount of time, before returning to a place of safety where they feel supported.
As an employee continuously puts themselves into places of discomfort before retreating, they get used to the discomfort, become more confident in their abilities and gain assurance that you’re there to support them. Together, this increases their propensity for taking risks, whether that be sharing unpopular opinions, offering creative new ideas, experimenting and learning from failure, or working more autonomously.
(Side note: Emotional interval training was developed by psychologist, Albert Ellis, who wanted to marry but was terrified of speaking to women. He forced himself to sit on a park bench in Central Park for six months, speaking with each woman who sat down. Over time, he gradually gained confidence as he learned that nothing horrible happened from the interactions. This allowed him to take ever greater steps to speak and engage with women, eventually overcoming his fear.)
Emotional interval training allows employees to slowly develop mastery experiences, which is when people build confidence in their ability to master skills through direct experience. Compassionate, non judgemental questions allow employees to externalize the mistake or issue. This “anti-shame perspective” leads them to feel supported, so instead of becoming defensive, they take ownership of their mistake.
By taking ownership, the person builds an internal perception of themselves as a responsible person who admits when they made a mistake and works to figure out the best path to success. This helps them develop a personal belief that they have the ability to master challenges on their own. Noelle points out that this positive self-perception aligns with the anticipatory principle, that human beings move in the direction of images they set up of the future.
PUT BRAIN SCIENCE TO GOOD USE
When employees experience consistent support from managers during challenging situations, feel-good chemicals enable them to perform at their best. By adopting language, habits and approaches that externalize issues, show compassion, and allow for a slow progression of experimentation and mastery, you can create an environment that makes it safe to take risks, leading your people to achieve great things.
KEEP UP WITH NOELLE
Get $100 off the The JRNI Coaching Intensive which is a 20-week life coach certification for imperfect people to pursue their perfect calling and launch a coaching practice that makes an impact, when you become a member of the Modern Manager community at themodernmanager.co/join.
This article was based on episode 102 The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio and Stitcher. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.