What’s on my Brain…

 As I stated in my post a few weeks ago (Take it Down a Notch), I mentioned that I was off to coffee with my buddy Kevin Leahy. A passionate, high notch man himself, we had a great discussion around the brain and what you can actually do to perceive and respond to another person’s level. As I said, “Meet them where they are.” Kevin, kindly offers this insight today. Thanks Kevin. Love this brain stuff. Safe Travels!

Linda, you asked:  Where it is in our brains that we assess the states of mind of others?

 Great question! Here are some thoughts. Our brains assess what others are thinking and feeling in several ways, including by paying attention to visual, auditory, and other cues.

Visual system

What we see gets sent quickly to an area in the back-middle of our brains that keeps patterns about what we know of others (it is the integrative cortex). We match what we see with past patterns of what we know about people. Are the shoulders slumped? Does the face look strained? Are they looking down or away from us? Our brains give us a super fast answer that gets sent back to the dispatch area (called the thalamus) for further processing and also to the front of the brain (our executive function area). The front is where we make conscious assessments of what is happening. This effort can take some time so we benefit from patience as our brain figures out as much as it can without our asking specific questions.

Hearing system

The hearing system can be more sensitive than our vision. It is closer and more connected to the middle of the brain, which is the area where we generate our emotions. We can listen to the person’s tone of voice (deep, high, or thin and nervous, etc.); speed; volume; and any non-verbal utterances (sighs, harrumphs, and the like). We process those sounds and compare them with existing patterns to understand what’s going on.

We can then ask ourselves: should we adjust to the other person’s mood; mirror his or her body language; or simply wait patiently with little verbal and non-verbal communication either way until the other person lets us know how he or she feels, or what’s on his or her mind.

Other systems

We have far more systems that help us decipher others’ states of mind than we realize. For starters, there are special cells in the back parts of the front brain areas called mirror neurons that “mirror” other people without our consciously knowing it. If his shoulders are slumped, our mirror neurons might cause our shoulders to slump too. Because body positions are linked to mental states we can pay attention to what our own bodies do to get a sense of what the other person might be thinking or feeling.

We can “smell” situations and “feel” them too by sensing energy fluctuations. We call these other systems intuition. It pays to know about these other systems and rely on the front-most part of our brains to help us sort them out. There are special ways to train for this that help increase our awareness including meditation, mental rehearsal, and body language management.

Asking questions

Aside from our brains’ default checks and balances, we have the luxury of asking questions. The first and best question to ask is: “Is this a good time to talk?” After obtaining initial permission to speak we do well to continue to ask for permission.

For example, if we sense something is wrong we can propose: “I may have this wrong… but did something happen that has you feeling a little off?” Or of the person is potentially in a re-energizing place, we can ask: “I have a big topic to talk about, shall we just catch up now or go ahead and talk about it?”

These additional levels of permission help us confirm where the other person’s state of mind and body are. We deserve to listen very carefully to the answers and consider “how” they are answered (what body language and tone are involved, for example).

Working with the brain

The key to all of this is to know that our brains are always looking to do the right thing. In the process they often pick up only part of the story and start filling in the gaps in ways that may not help our relationships. On their own, in other words, our brains can make significant social mistakes. Therefore, we benefit most from using our conscious ability to slow things down and help our brains make the right assessments. That way, we make the right choices about how much energy, information, and emotion to offer others.

Thanks for the opportunity to comment about the brain and social interactions.

Kevin Leahy


Got Coach?

 Coaching? Isn’t that what I do for my kid’s soccer team?!  Well, yes, we traditionally think of coaches when it comes to sports. And we always assume and know the value those coaches bring to a team. Now coaches of all kinds have entered our lives to support us from health to life to overall happiness. So when would I seek the help of an executive business coach and how do I know which one to choose?

 Clients tend to come my way when they are in the midst of some pivotal change and growth; when they really need to take their business to the next level and stop behaving like a club and begin performing like a company. The “growing pains” can show up in several of different places…

 5 Sure Signs You Need an Executive Business Coach

1. You’re successful, but your “start-up adrenaline” has crashed. You’re physically exhausted and can’t imagine how it will all get done.

2. You’ve become a “seagull” leader, swooping in and out with feedback and let’s face it … it’s not helping morale.

3. You’re short-tempered, frustrated and wondering… “why can’t my team just make the decisions and get it done?”

4. You’re finding that just working harder isn’t working anymore no matter how many Venti Starbucks you have. You need to work smarter.

5. You’re wondering if stealing your child’s Ritalin is the answer to focus. It’s time to stop multi-tasking and start mindful-tasking.

 What is the cost of not addressing some of the challenges you’re having? Will you be unable to scale your business for growth? Will you be able to continue being an effective leader? Will your employees start leaving if you choose to work in the trenches? When you consider just a few of these questions, what do you think…luxury or necessity?

 When a leader realizes that he or she needs to change to make things optimal, the leaders seeks a coach to help guide them through the process. It’s not always easy to tackle this change and development in a self-guided way. As an objective coach with actual business experience, I help leaders go through this change over a manageable period of time.

 Once you’ve decided to use an executive business coach, how do you find the right one? Finding the right coach is critical to predicting success in the coaching relationship. In fact, I would advise that finding the right coach is no different to finding the right partner or new employee. Consider the following factors:

  • Coach’s Business Experience: Has the coach ever been a leader of people? Been responsible for Profit and Loss? Set business strategy or a talent strategy?
  • Proven Process: Does the coach have a proven process that measures for return on investment? Are there testimonials to back it up?
  • Core Values Match: Does the coach fit your company’s core values? If respect and dignity are core to your business, do you know if the coach will demonstrate those?
  • Coaching Competencies: Does the coach demonstrate the ability to listen and empathize, show sensitivity and hold confidentiality, have ability to work across cultures/genders, have openness to change, ability to gain and maintain trust?

 And then there’s the highly technical assessment: gut. What is your gut telling you when you meet with your potential coach? Can I have an open, trusting relationship with this person and be willing to be challenged?

 And remember… while a coach may be the guide, you will be the one putting the work into action. Make sure yours is a trusted partner that will push you, challenge you and teach you invaluable lessons about your leadership!

 Visit here to learn more about Linda’s approach to coaching.

Take it down a notch!

Boom, ba-boom, boom, ba-boom… that car was vibrating. The music was cranked up to 11. The person inside was singing, I mean singing full out. Hands a wavin’, interacting with the audience, singing at the top of the lungs, belting like Aretha… it felt really good.

Yeah, that was me. I admit it. And while I risked being seen by unsuspecting neighbors who may now think twice about play dates with the Hill boys, it was worth it. I felt so happy. All of my favorite songs were playing and while these artists were perfectly competent to sing on their own, I’m certain their performance was just a wee bit better with my help on Tuesday morning.

I’ve been accused before of being “that person.” You know, the person who shows up to work that is overly positive. “Good morning everyone!” And while one might think that is an admirable trait, some might tell you that it didn’t work for them.

Take my ex-coworker, now good friend, who I’ll refer to as “Gena.” When we worked together at Starbucks in Creative Services in the late 90s, I would commonly get in around 7 (hey, I’m a recovering farm girl). “Gena” would arrive around 8:30 or so, a sane time by most people’s standards. She would turn the corner heading toward our space and I can only imagine what was going through her head…

“Damn, there she is. She’s already here again. Isn’t everything so happy, Miss Happy Pants? Keep your face down… don’t make eye contact… oh wait, it’s too late… she’s… coming… towards… me. Here it comes. Brace yourself.” GOOD MORNING GENA!

Poor Gena. I never gave her a chance. I was consumed with my emotion, not taking into account that maybe it was too much for her.

This all came to mind when I was talking to someone yesterday about how as a leader, whether we are talking to a peer, a direct report or a boss, we need to “meet them where they are.” Where is that person emotionally? How are they feeling? And if someone is really stressed, how being overly positive can actually make things worse. It can also be equally bad if the person is overly positive and so are you and you about to embark on some critical thinking. Think you might have some blind spots?

Next time you meet someone, take a minute to calculate where that person is emotionally on a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being miserable, 10 being jubilant. What are you about to do and where do you need him or her to be? As a leader, how can use your emotional knowledge to lead someone to a productive place, not force him or her there with a GOOD MORNING!

This morning, however, I’ll be cranking to 11 because I’m meeting with Kevin Leahy, the brain trainer, who is well over 15 on the scale of positivity at ALL TIMES. We’re meeting for coffee at 8 am (although he suggested 7… Love that guy!) for a little brainstorming about the brain, a perfect reason to be overly positive.

Have a great Friday everyone! 🙂

Staying Inside the Lines

I was at my son’s school this morning for a special celebration breakfast. For once, my schedule was clear and no plane was in sight. I was able to make it. (For those of you working parents out there, you realize that this can be an accomplishment likened to the building of the Parthenon.)

I arrived early and took a spin around the classroom. What is going on in 1st grade?

I happened upon a wall where they had clearly illustrated a story they had heard, I’m assuming of two friends. The outlines of the friends were made, but it was up to each child to fill in the blanks.

Kid #1 Picture

The first one I saw was delightful… what one would expect to see… simple happy faces, two friends joined hand in hand. Lovely.

Fin's Picture

Then, I shifted over to the right. The kid drew inside the lines, but what in the world was going on here? Who were his parents and what is going on in that household?  They must be happy, maybe reggae Rastafarians? Oh, wait, that’s my kid’s drawing.

I started to wonder how many of my clients were like my son when they were kids. Working with so many entrepreneurs, surely there was a desire to draw outside the lines. And if they couldn’t, they sure as hell were going to do everything but.

The world of business has a lot of “should’s” and “this is the way it works.” However, the last couple of years has truly challenged the “norm.” It has inspired the entrepreneurial spirit in all of us. We know there are some “basic lines” in business, but where can we innovate, do it differently, challenge the “should”?

I’m going to hang this picture in my office as a reminder that when I’m drawing inside the lines, maybe I don’t need to. Thanks for the reminder, Fin.

When was the last time you drew outside the lines?