If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it is the importance of human connection. The slogan ‘in this together’ is now commonplace, but how do we ensure we come out of this together? Organisational Development Consultant and Coach MEG PRICE looks at how we emerge as better versions of ourselves- together.
There is a clear message that people do not want to return to their old ‘normal’ but want to learn from this experience and come out of lockdown happier, more balanced and more productive. But how do we really do that and not resort to our old pre COVID-19 ways? To really learn from this experience and come out together, I believe the world will require more human connection than ever before. The return out of lockdown gives each of us the opportunity to be better humans. How will you choose to connect to others and be adaptive to our new future?
I believe we need to C.A.R.E. more (I’ll break down the acronym in a minute). In fact, the key is in small moments of C.A.R.E. each and every day.
Psychologist Rick Hansen put it beautifully when he said the brain is velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones. If our brains are wired to sense threat far more than looking for rewarding experiences, then we have to really make an effort to provide everyone we meet with a little something that bonds to Teflon and give out a lot less of the stuff that sticks to velcro.
How taking C.A.R.E. can change the way we live and work…
My studies in neuroscience have taught me three important insights:
- The brain treats social needs and experiences in the same way it treats the need for food and water. We feel social pain in the same part of the brain as physical pain but social pain lasts far longer;
- When we feel threatened our brain goes into flight-fight-freeze mode – we do not utilise our prefrontal cortex (the thinking part of the brain) and so we find it difficult to respond rationally, problem solve, be empathetic and have productive emotions. When we feel rewarded, we have more productive emotions and behaviours, allowing us to be more creative, solution orientated, rational and empathetic; and
- There are specific domains of experience that activate strong social threats and rewards in the brain, which then influence our behaviours;
If we choose to be a better version of ourselves post-lockdown, we need to start being more curious and aware of when these specific domains are triggered in ourselves and others. With a curious mindset and an understanding of the domains that are triggered, we can choose more productive behaviours each time we interact with others. We can take responsibility for how we make others feel in every interaction we have with them. It is not easy, but it is possible with a little curiosity. Those people who choose to connect with others and be mindful of how they trigger productive and unproductive emotions in others will be the people who will succeed post lockdown.
So let’s all learn how to C.A.R.E. with 4 easy-to-remember domains:
Clarity refers to ensuring our brains are given as much clarity as possible – we often read that the brain loves certainty, but certainty is very difficult to give people. Benjamin Franklin is often quoted as saying, “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes”. Absolute certainty will rarely be possible. However, we can choose to provide people with clarity. We can’t anticipate and plan for everything – COVID-19 has certainly shown us this. Nor should we try because the brain energy required in thinking all the “what ifs” is exhausting. We are far better to put our energy into focusing on what we do have control of and what we do have a sense of clarity around. We can be clear on how we want to view situations, how we want to behave, what we want to communicate and our reactions.
We do not always have all the data people want for certainty, but we can give as much clarity as we can. If we say nothing, people make up stories in order for their brains to be rewarded with a version of certainty– of course it is unlikely to be correct or factual, the brain is not concerned with truth, it just wants to feel it has clarity so that it can continue to be a prediction machine. Its why so many of us fall for fake news or conspiracy theories.
Dr Brene Brown says it well when she states Clear is Kind, Unclear is Unkind.
Clarity requires you to be curious, certainty is about a feeling of absolute knowing, clarity:
- Includes curiosity about other points of view, certainty does not
- Includes knowing what it is you do not know; certainty does not think about not knowing
- Is expressed in stories; certainty is expressed in “it will be ..”
- Is about questioning your assumptions, rather than believing they are true
Autonomy is around our brain’s desire to have options and ability to choose how we affect an outcome. We need to help ourselves and others see the choices they have. They are not forced to stay in isolation but rather choose to do so to keep themselves and others healthy. Right now, many proactive businesses are helping their employees choose when, where and how they get their work done around other home commitments. Post lockdown, people will desire more autonomy in how they get their work done and less micromanaging from their leaders. Giving autonomy helps build trust that is so important for connection and will be critical for those who want to succeed post lockdown.
Autonomy is about:
- Giving yourself and others choice
- Being flexible and open to new ideas
- Conceptualising different courses of action that different parties could take to resolve conflict
- Giving people a sense of control over the work they do if possible
- Being consultative and exploratory, not being always right
Relationships are critical to the human brain, we need connection with others, we also desire a sense of knowing how our contribution is valued by others. Human connection is so important to our wellbeing. If we choose to put people at the centre of our lives, then the people we have relationships with are the focus of our attention. Post-lockdown we need to build people-centred lives, workplaces and communities. We can no longer keep talking about people being our most important asset and then create policies and procedures that derail us. We need to lean into relationships and seek to understand each other more.
One of the life changing things I read was in Dr Brene Brown’s books where her husband suggests his life is better when he chooses to believe everyone is doing their best. Humans are very quick to judge others. When we judge, we stop seeing others as humans doing their best and start seeing them more as objects. It is easy to be critical of and even hate objects but harder to hate people up close. Whenever you start judging (and you will), remind yourself that person is a human like you and they, like you, are doing the best they can. Sometimes it doesn’t always look that way But just imagine what might be going on for them if that is their best. Maybe they need more compassion from you than contempt. Compassion leads to connection, contempt leads to disconnection.
- If that person really is doing the best they can today, how might I help them?
- What kind of parent/teacher/leader/partner do others need me to be?
- How can I communicate to them in a way that will provide rewards in the 4 domains and not threats?
- How will Icheck in with them to see if I am being the person that they need me to be?
- How will I build trust so that people feel safe to be themselves and speak up without fear?
- How will I listen to be surprised, rather than clarifying my own assumptions?
Equity refers to our brain’s perception that things are fair and equitable. This domain is a highly emotional one – the part of our brain that is activated when we feel things are not fair or equitable is the same part where you feel disgust, compelling us to be repulsed. We like to feel things are fair. There has been much talk about people feeling things are unfair during lockdown – some people working at risk and others at “enjoying” working from home. This domain is more about our perception of fairness than fact. All the domains are interrelated but equity often comes into play when you are triggered by a threat in the other domains. For example: If I do not get clarity about the lockdown rules in Victoria but others appear to be getting a great deal of clarity on the rules in NSW I will feel a hit to clarity and fairness.
Triggers to one domain will often then trigger other domains and causes what is known as a multiplier effect so we need to be mindful as to what is happening in our brains before our brains get carried away with the worst-case scenario. It is also important to know that no two brains are the same and threats and rewards are relative, incremental and different for each of us so check the assumptions you make – you are probably wrong!
To help we need to:
- Clearly explaining actions and context
- Establishing win-win outcomes
- Ask people what equity or fairness looks like to them
- Be transparent when making decisions
- Show empathy for the story others might be attached to
Below is an easy way to remind yourself daily to catch the moment you feel triggered in one of the 4 domains, challenge the story you are telling yourself right now and change how you react.
In summary, if we really do want to change and come out of lockdown together as better versions of ourselves, we need to create opportunities at each and every interaction we have with others to truly connect with them. The ability to connect by providing rewards to other people’s brains in every interaction will ensure we can collaborate, be creative, solve problems and create new ways to see the world. A world where we are all in this together.