How sensitive is your brain to change?

Posted on February 5, 2015. Filed under: Our Leaders Say | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , |

This week, Martin Turnbull, an independent learning and development consultant based in Brisbane and a graduate of neuresource group’s Diploma of the Neuroscience of Leadership, looks at how the human brain responds to change and why making a change can be so difficult.


image credit: RG Daniel

Image credit: RG Daniel


When it comes to organisational change, we like to think of change as beneficial. We strive to embrace the new way of doing business, and actively encourage colleagues and staff to do so as well. Unfortunately, many tend to reject change outright. In general, this happens because of the internal stress and anxiety triggered by uncertainty: we worry about how change might affect our comfortable, predictable world, and this makes us resistant.

Evidence from neuroscience and psychology studies reveals that our view of the world depends on a combination of the common way our brains have evolved and the growth of unique neural networks influenced by inherited traits, environmental factors, and our experiences. This unique combination gives rise to substantial behavioural differences — even among individuals from the same environment who experience the same events.

This insight is important for leaders who are embarking on organisational change. A key element in any organisational change process is communicating requirements to those who will be affected. Looking at this through a neuroscience lens, we see that, at the physical level, change messages are received by sensory inputs, passing through the central nervous system to the brain to be decoded and acted on. One of the first areas to receive sensory signals is the limbic system where the amygdala, reacting to emotional content of the decoded message, prepares our body to fight or flee by altering our biochemistry if the change is interpreted as threatening. Signals continue to spread neuron-to-neuron through the actions of hormones, bioelectric signals, and neurotransmitters to many brain areas, communicating and combining with physical and emotional responses that precede conscious thought.

This tidal wave of action passing through different parts of the brain eventually reaches the pre-frontal cortex (PFC) — the executive controller of our working memory — where it’s evaluated. Based on our internal traits and our stored memories, the PFC makes a judgement call, thus contributing to future thoughts and emotions as we transfer and project existing memories onto new thoughts to match our expectations, needs, and beliefs.

What we perceive as real includes not just a representation of the stimulus world but also that which our psyche adds to or subtracts from as it is translated into new actions and memories, all of which give rise to our unique reconstruction of the external world. However, by the time conscious thought and decision making are possible, our brain may have already settled on an initial course of action.

Unfortunately, in the case of change management strategies, this type of emotion-laden action may produce responses counter to the changes you’re hoping to enact.

Something else to consider is an individual’s innate ‘approach’ or ‘avoidance’ bias, which is due to differences within their septo-hippocampal system and PFC and may dramatically influence the acceptance of change plans. There have been numerous studies on these behaviours that attempt to explain and measure individual differences of approach or avoidance personality traits. Perhaps the most influential is a theory proposed by Jeffrey Gray describing behaviours that are thought to be governed by separate approach and avoidance systems within the brain. Gray’s theory (known as the revised Reinforcement Sensitivity Theory (r-RST)  suggests that individual differences in innate approach-avoidance traits are affected by three systems:

  1.  The Behavioural Approach System (BAS) comprises personality traits of optimism, reward-orientation, and impulsiveness, consistent with extroversion
  2. The Behavioural Inhibition System (BIS) is responsible for the resolution of goal conflict through the assessment of uncertainty and risk using input from memory and the environment
  3. The Fight-Flight-Freeze System (FFFS) is responsible for mediating reactions to all aversive stimuli, including fear, to reduce the difference between threat and safety

If we view the relationship between innate approach-avoidance traits and an individual’s initial reaction to change, in terms of the r-RST, it’s possible an individual will react in one of four ways as depicted in Figure 1:


Figure 1

A.  Those with ‘approach’ personality traits, who initially reject change, typically vocalise their dissent and openly criticise and undermine the change strategy. They do not see any reward in changing and will fight to retain the status quo. This type need convincing through messages framed with positive language to activate approach actions towards accepting change.

Your skills make you a valuable employee and a key player in the roll out of the new computer system. Your support will be essential in helping others to adapt and together we can be competitive and deliver better outcomes for our customers.


B.  Those with avoidance traits, who initially fear change, are likely to experience levels of anxiety due to internal conflict and uncertainty that inhibits movement towards change. By playing upon this group’s innate pessimistic outlook it’s possible to create motivating messages using avoidance framed language emphasising that not changing is clearly a greater threat than the change itself.

I know you are concerned about the forthcoming introduction of the new computer system and the extra work that will be initially required. However, we need you to start developing a personal change plan as soon as possible to ensure that the roll-out in your area goes smoothly. Failure to do this will mean we risk losing our competitive edge and let down our customers, which will certainly lead us to downsize

C.   Those with approach traits, who initially embrace change, actively seek and facilitate change and pose few, if any, problems for change managers. The more extroverted ones can be put to good use as ‘change evangelists’ to influence those who are undecided or not fully committed to accept change — the ‘fence sitters’ who are easier to move in the right direction than those who reject change outright.

D.  Those with avoidance traits, who recognise the need for change, tend to react easily to aversive stimuli thus recognising that stagnation is a greater threat than change. This type needs reassuring throughout the process that change is still the better option. One way of doing this is to celebrate any short term wins so as to make change goals appear closer and the threat of not changing to appear further away.

The Motivation-Trait Model uses our current understanding of r-RST approach-avoidance processes to understand why certain individuals either embrace or avoid change and encourage behaviours that recognise and react to threats in appropriate ways, rather than rejecting change, being too frightened to act, or not knowing what to do.

By knowing your team well and having a clear understanding of the underlying factors at play and how each innately responds to the idea of change, you are in a better position to manage an organisational change plan. And you are also more likely to succeed.

This article is based on the paper Turnbull, M. (2015). A Model of Motivation for Facilitating Sustainable Change. Neuroleadeship Journal Volume 5, (January 2015).

List of References

Martin Turnbull Martin Turnbull is an independent learning and development consultant based in Brisbane, Australia, with an interest in the practical application of outcomes from the fields of organisational development, positive psychology, and neuroscience. Martin holds a number of qualifications, including Master of Education (Leadership & Management), Bachelor of Arts in Adult Education, Diploma and Post-Graduate Certificate in Project Management, as well as other credentials within the Australian Qualifications Framework. Martin is a graduate of the first cohort of neuresource group’s Diploma of the Neuroscience of Leadership in 2012.

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B.E.T.T.E.R. Conversations

Posted on September 9, 2014. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , |

Michelle Loch is a PCC qualified coach and an expert in Neuroleadership.  Her passion is educating and coaching leaders to high performance using neuroscience as a foundational theory.


Better Conversations_Original

I work with individuals who want to be better leaders, and with organisations that want to grow and develop better leaders. Leadership is about change, and change happens one conversation at a time. But often, the quality of our conversations in the workplace is poor; and as a result, leadership is becoming an unnecessarily time-consuming, exhausting and all-encompassing (read increasingly frustrating) activity.

Do you find that your team is constantly interrupting you to ask questions? Do you sometimes feel that you seem to be doing everyone’s job for them? Is it sometimes just easier to ‘do it yourself’’ or tell them what they need to know?

Research conducted by Judith E Glaser, author of ‘Conversational Intelligence’, found that as many as 95% of verbal exchanges in the workplace were ‘telling’ conversations.

When we are told what to do, we don’t have to think! And when we don’t have to think, we don’t engage! And when we don’t engage we don’t own!

The brain is ‘lazy’. It likes to conserve energy and will avoid doing the ‘hard work’ of thinking unless it is forced to! And we can do that through cleverly constructed conversations.

As leaders, we want to engage our team (and ourselves) in ‘effortful thinking’ and to find ways to create new thinking, and mental shifts. We want to be constantly moving the thinking of our people forward and into new places.  The ROI on effortful thinking is engagement and ownership of work-related issues and resolutions. And who doesn’t want that!

Recent discoveries, particularly in the area of social cognitive neuroscience, provide us with a fact-based, deeper understanding of how relationships are built and broken; how emotions impact us and how to better communicate with each other. We can use this new knowledge to our benefit in our workplace conversations.

We can have B.E.T.T.E.R Conversations!    

BETTER Conversations…

B: are Brain-friendly

E: are Emotionally balanced

T: are Toward focused

T: have Tested Assumptions

E: are Encouraging

R: challenge Responsibility

 And above all, BETTER Conversations are USEFUL rather than just INTERESTING! Think about how many conversations in your work day are really useful in terms of achieving your KPI’s. When you really look into it, we spend a lot of conversation and meeting time in the INTERESTING space, which feels good, but doesn’t leverage our time and productivity.

Let’s take a quick look into what a brain-based BETTER Conversation looks like, along with the associated mindSHIFTS that BETTER Conversationalists make in their skilled conversations.

Brain-friendly:   We have a great capacity for complex and creative thinking. Unfortunately we have habitually developed ways of interacting that interfere with that capacity.  Brain-friendly conversations are structured to account for how our brain is principally organised and follow a process that creates the optimal environment for focus, insight, solution-focus and social connection – all the ingredients for employee innovation and collaboration.

BETTER Conversations are designed to reduce the myriad of potential threat responses in the brain that draw precious brain fuel away from the pre-frontal cortex, our thinking brain, to our primitive limbic system (our emotional and survival centre) – resulting in a literal ‘logic shutdown’.  Brain-friendly conversations also focus deliberately on questioning techniques designed to enable insight – the AHA moment – which is a underused, powerful motivator in terms of employee engagement and behaviour.

SO….the brain-friendly mindSHIFTs a BETTER Conversationalist makes are:



Emotionally balanced:  You would know from your own experience that you cannot be really upset and think logically at the same time. Perhaps you have experienced making some less than desirable decisions in a moment of excitement?

Our brain cannot be limbic (emotional) and logic (PFC focused) at the same time. BETTER Conversations include the use of techniques and skills to manage and capitalise on our emotional responses to get the best from our brain and our collaboration efforts.

SO….the emotional mindSHIFT a BETTER Conversationalist makes is:


Toward focused:  Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to rewire itself based on response to experience. It’s how we adapt to our environment, and it is one of the ‘big neuroscience discoveries’.

Hebb’s Law tells us that ‘neurons that fire together, wire together’. We create and strengthen neuronal connections and pathways through attention and focus. The more attention we give to a particular pathway the stronger it becomes and the more prevalent it will be in our thinking, particularly when under stress when we have less executive brain to control where our thinking goes.

Creating new thinking means creating new neural pathways, and that happens via attention. BETTER Conversations deliberately focus on the Toward State – where we need to go and how we need to get there. So many of our work conversations focus on where we have been, and the issues at hand…which is interesting, but not particularly useful!

SO….the focus mindSHIFT a BETTER Conversationalist makes is:


Tested Assumptions:  If there is one thing that I would say creates the greatest barrier to great thinking and effective collaboration, it’s assumptions we make. Of course, assumptions are merely our brain’s way of using its energy effectively. It saves energy by accessing past memories and hardwiring to make sense and meaning of what is occurring in the moment. Unfortunately, that information may not always be the most useful or appropriate for the situation.

Our brains are also biased, again, a survival mechanism. BETTER Conversations are curious. They take the time to examine our assumptions, to test the possibility of bias and to bridge the gap between one person’s reality and anothers allowing for leveraged productivity and outcomes.

SO….the assumption mindSHIFT a BETTER Conversationalist makes is:


Encouraging:  Taking time to encourage the right thinking, and then hold attention on the right brain wiring can fast-track behaviour change. Carol Dweck’s work ‘Mindset’ suggests that we can operate in either Fixed Mindset or a Growth Mindset.   BETTER Conversations are great at creating Growth Mindsets, and people with growth mindsets….grow!

SO….the encouraging mindSHIFT a BETTER Conversationalist makes is:


Clear Responsibility:  And finally, BETTER Conversations are clear about who is responsible for doing the thinking in an interaction. We pay our people to think, but we often end up doing the thinking for them. Instead we need to support them to engage in their own effortful and insightful thinking.

Instead of asking ‘How can I help you with this problem?’ and ending up with the problem squarely in your court, you can ask ‘How can I help you think this though?’ As a leader, your role is to facilitate great work, rather than always being the consultant and driver of that work.

BETTER Conversations make it clear that people are responsible for their own thinking, and skillfully support them to do that thinking as well.

SO….the responsibility mindSHIFT a BETTER Conversationalist makes is:


Of course there are times when information simply needs to be shared, however even in those situations, using a brain-based approach to any conversation adds much value in making stuff stick.

Are you a BETTER Conversationalist? It’s a skill, and a skill that can be learned…after all, our brains are designed to make new connections and to learn and grow. Becoming a BETTER Conversationalist may require you to rewire you brain around how you engage with your people…but it’s worth it for the leverage, productivity, engagement and connection you will create in your team.

Michell Loch     Michelle Loch is the Founder and Director of UnLOCHed Potential and one of Australia’s leading experts in developing High Performance through NeuroLeadership, Team Engagement and Brain Fitness.
As a highly experienced Executive Coach, Facilitator and HR Consultant with over 25 years experience in the corporate arena, Michelle has helped countless business owners, management teams and entrepreneurs around the globe hone their thinking, improve their decision-making, and increase their ability to communicate, connect, inspire and engage with their team.

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Are you building an intelligent enterprise?

Posted on August 25, 2014. Filed under: Interesting Articles, Linda Ray, Practical Strategies, Tara Neven | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

In this post, Tara Neven, the co-founder and co-director of neuresource group,  looks at why applying neuroscience to organisational leadership matters and what it means to be an intelligent organisation.

NeuOrgA3_thought bubbles

In today’s global economy and in an increasingly hyperkinetic business climate, an organisation’s long-term success is determined by the ability of its supervisors, managers or senior executives to lead effectively through periods of economic uncertainty and constant change. In an era of unprecedented complexity and disruptive change, organisations must respond quickly and creatively to shifting markets and fluctuating social, and political conditions—to survive and to thrive.

Aligning your people to your organisational strategy and having a clear roadmap for getting there, is one of the foundations of a balanced scorecard. A balanced scorecard supports you to build human capital value and an intelligent enterprise. We can’t fight biology but we can leverage what we know about it. As we understand more about how the human brain works, organisational leadership may become defined as the art of building ‘neurocapability’ and creating brain-friendly organisations.

Applying neuroscience to organisational leadership matters. Science is revolutionising our understanding of what it is to be human. An explosion of advances in human neuroscience is giving us a window into why people behave as they do and how we can manage our environments and behaviors with others to maximise results. These new scientific findings challenge old assumptions of what it means to lead. While intelligence is our greatest strategic asset, our way of life has become profoundly out of sync with our neurology, and we largely fail to practice brain-friendly leadership principles and practices.

So what is an intelligent organisation, and why should this be important to you as a business owner, director, decision maker or leader? Why should you give this focus and attention when there are so many other issues in your business to deal with (for some it is just about keeping the doors open)? Simply put, building a brain-friendly organisation addresses and manages the disconnect between what science knows and business does. Dan Pink showcased this disconnect in his 2009 Ted talk the puzzle of motivation. Fast forward five years and there is still a massive disconnect between what science knows and business does.

Our knowledge of neuroscience and its application to practical business practices and leadership is fast evolving. Some would even suggest we are living in a neuro-revolution. The question becomes: So what?  How can we tap into emerging insights about the brain and apply them to the everyday work environment? How can we use what we’re learning to address the engagement and leadership crisis also regularly featured in the media?

If we embrace this new lens (through what we call the ‘neuro-lens’) to review and reinvent leadership and organisational practices and frameworks, we stand to be far more effective managers, leaders, CEOs, executives, and supervisors. The best organisations and the wisest leaders intuitively know how to create ‘brain-friendly’ environments, and they are reaping the rewards in productivity, performance, staff retention, and engagement levels.

In her article about building brain friendly organisations, Janet Crawford looks at the implications of taking brain science into the workplace. Crawford argues that many “nice to have” neuroleadership practices are, in fact, critically necessary. Organisations today use the rhetoric of work life balance, diversity and that they don’t tolerate bullying but have no real idea how to overcome it. Janet states that even if an organisation acknowledges that brain-friendly work environments are desirable, most organisations don’t truly understand how to create them, or don’t believe that they are possible.

She points out that if, as leaders, we commit ourselves to the task of cultivating environments, which optimise the human operating system, much of the rest will take care of itself. People will be excited and motivated and actually become engaged. This engagement, providing the processes are in place will last. They will think clearly and efficiently. Creativity and focus will abound. Collaboration and commitment become possible.

Neuroscience confirms something that HR and OD professionals have known for a long time: People fear change and change in the modern world is constant and is only going to get faster and more constant, change is the new norm. We need to get better at understanding change approaching change with the brain in mind.

A recent whitepaper, The Neuroscience of Leadership: Practical Applications, authored by Kimberly Schaufenbuel, program director of UNC Executive Development, examines this emerging field and provides examples of how applying neuroleadership can improve leadership practices, change management, innovation and creativity, and employee engagement.

According to Schaufenbuel, “HR professionals and leaders should try to reduce stress and anxiety by focusing on the positive aspects of the proposed change, asking questions, and listening actively to employees’ concerns. This process enhances the brain’s ability to adjust its response to the change and perceive it as non-threatening.”

If you want to get started on building your intelligent enterprise, consider these questions, can you answer or measure them?

  • Do you have a clear strategic vision?   – do your people know your “why” (watch Simon Sinek on TED Talks)
  • Have you got the right people doing the right thing and are you supporting and developing human capital?
  • Are your people consistently in a state of high engagement?
  • Can your people quickly respond to unexpected challenges?
  • Do your people know what they need to do every day to execute on strategy and have they got a forum to collaborate to discuss this?

Brain-friendly organisations are intelligent enterprises and they get a tick for each of these questions. They understand the importance of supporting people across the organisation to connect to the purpose or the why.

Brain-friendly organisations understand people are their greatest asset and tapping into their strengths and talents and having them doing the right job supports consistent high levels of motivation.

Brain-friendly organisations are committed to creating a workplace that engages the hearts and minds of people. Employees are not viewed as commodities with endless supplies of energy, rather they are viewed as a valuable resource.

In a climate of rapid change brain-friendly organisations have practices in place that support the organisation to be agile. Agile organisations are innovative and take advantage of unexpected opportunities as they arise. People in the business are supported to challenge the status quo and to think outside of the box.

Brain-friendly organisations understand people need a clear roadmap to implement the business strategy and support people to pursue business goals by creating strategies that keep people’s attention focussed on the areas that are important. This is key in the current environment where invitations to distract us and derail our focus are rife.

One of the best compliments I had recently from a senior leader in a large transport infrastructure company we are working with is ‘What have you done to my people? They are thinking for themselves and coming up with solutions’. Some small ‘tweaks’ to how an organisation is operating can reap big rewards. Is your organisation taking advantage of the neuro-revolution? Is it time to address any disconnects between what science is showing us and what your business does?

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5 things you can do to as a leader to make your organisation more productive

Posted on July 18, 2014. Filed under: Our Leaders Say, Practical Strategies | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Adair Jones, a Brainwaves for Leaders staff writer, looks at how applying neuroscience to work practices can make organisations more productive.


Artist: Egon Philipp

Photo: Egon Philipp

Most organisations are committed to keeping apace of technological advances, updating equipment frequently, and devoting resources to state-of-the-art processes and materials. The general feeling is that constant upgrades are a necessity to survive in an increasingly harsh and competitive economic climate. It’s perplexing, however, that this attitude doesn’t extend to any organisation’s most important resource – its people. Dated thinking, old-school beliefs, and outmoded approaches are all-to-often applied to how people work together. And leaders are left wondering why productivity falters. Outdated management thinking insists the psychology is not relevant to business. However, what we are discovering about the brain tells us that this just isn’t the case. We now have scientific evidence that what goes on inside the brain, from emotional responses to higher cognitive skills, impacts everything we do and should be incorporated into how we structure work. Brain functions affect perception, emotion, and conscious thought. More and more, leaders are borrowing from neuroscience research, and we are beginning to see practical applications – and big rewards – in the workplace.

The top five ways to use what we’re learning from neuroscience to improve productivity

Manage expectations Because motivation plays a critical role in how and why people function the way they do, it’s important to understand that the brain is essentially a social organ. Research clearly shows that the brain’s primary organizing principle is to detect whether incoming stimuli is a reward or a threat.  It’s part of our early survival mechanism that allows the brain to quickly classify the “danger” level of any situation. Understanding this, it’s possible to manage expectations of employees and clients alike. Because no two brains are alike, this can be complicated, but it’s well worth the effort to learn what motivates each person and to what degree. Wolfram Schultz of Cambridge University in England has studied the links between dopamine and the brain’s reward circuitry. When a cue from the environment indicates you’re going to get a reward, dopamine is released. Interestingly, unexpected rewards release more dopamine than expected ones. This means that the surprise success, like unexpected praise, for example, can positively impact your brain chemistry far more dramatically than an expected promotion or pay rise. On the other hand, if you’re expecting a reward and don’t get it, dopamine levels fall steadily. It could take some time for a person to internalise this disappointment, re-frame it, and regain lost momentum at work. The savvy leader anticipates where expectations might be overshooting the mark and works to minimise them as much as possible. Keeping expectations low avoids disappointment if a goal isn’t achieved and sets up a situation for happy surprise and delight if it is. Understand emotions Remember, emotions are contagious. The moods of others, especially those in positions of power, can have a real and lasting effect on individuals and groups. Toxic bosses, bullying environments and aggressive cultures can infect every one. Leaders play an important role in their ability to influence the spread of certain types of emotions over others. Your emotions matter because they impact on those around you. A growing body of evidence emerging from the social cognitive neuroscience field suggests that many of our emotion regulation strategies not only don’t work but are bad for our health and those around us. Matthew Lieberman, of UCLA, found that learning to label our emotions maximises cognitive ability.  He’s found that using simple language to ‘name’ anticipated and experienced emotions, actually lowers the arousal of the limbic system producing a quieter brain state. This in turn, allows the prefrontal cortex – the brain’s CEO – to function more effectively. Suppressing emotion is the most commonly used emotion regulation strategy. Studies show that suppressing emotion physiologically impacts on those around you and increases heart rate and blood pressure of those you are interacting with. The discovery of mirror neurons has also shown how we are wired to detect and mirror emotion of others. The brain is highly tuned to emotions in others, which can in turn generate reward or threat cues. Many studies examining the emotion contagion effect are showing their impact on morale in an organisation. Fear, anxiety and anger are contagious but remember so is enthusiasm and joy. Develop attentional intelligence Attentional intelligence allows you to effortlessly but ‘mindfully’ notice where your attention is at any moment and to intentionally choose where you want it to be. This kind of mindfulness can have a huge impact on productivity. In a study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, conducted by Zindel Segal and colleagues, mindfulness meditation has been found to be as effective as antidepressants to prevent depression relapse. If it’s that powerful for people overwhelmed with troubles, imagine what it can do for those who are healthy and motivated. Greater focus, more effective planning, and greater stress reduction are just a few of the benefits. If we operate in the present, rather than brooding about the past or feeling anxious about the future, our minds are clear to deal with the issues at hand. It’s a simple principle, really: what we pay attention to gets accomplished. What we think, what we do, and what we focus on actually changes the structure and function of our brains. But, like any training, it takes practice for this to take full effect. It ultimately enables you not only to become calmer but also more creative. Cultivate creativity Image of young man sitting on floor looking at photosA number of large surveys done in the past few years show creativity at the top of the business leader’s wish list. It’s instructive to know then, what creativity needs to thrive.  Old notions still prevail about creative types – that like leaders, creatives are born, not made. This just isn’t the case. We are all creative. In fact, it’s one of the defining characteristics of being human. However, creativity does require cultivation. Different parts of the brain and different areas of focus yield different results. For example, holding big picture ideas and day-to-day details in your mind at the same time can lead to major stress. This common problem was first identified by J.P. Guilford in 1967 as two different types of thinking that occur in response to a problem: divergent thinking generates ideas, while convergent thinking sorts and analyses these ideas towards the best outcome. This concept explains why we find it so difficult to come up with a snappy title that completely illustrates everything in that detailed power point presentation you’ve just written. Respect your limitations Respecting our limits isn’t something modern Western culture encourages us to do. We are taught to break down barriers, reach for the stars, and never-say-never.  However, acknowledging that you are tired or burned out or unmotivated can be incredibly liberating and ultimately restorative. As long as you take positive action to rest, relax, and nourish yourself. As long as we are grounded in our human bodies, there are basic needs and limits that warrant respect. Eat when hungry, rest when tired, say no when too busy. Attitudes towards sleep also plays a role against ‘nurturing’ the seeds of creativity and productivity. Yes, sleep! Getting a good night’s sleep on a regular basis can do wonders for productivity. When our alertness dips mid-afternoon, as it’s genetically programmed to do even when you are well-slept, responding with a powernap is a proven way to boost mood, concentration, alertness and memory.   An awareness of how advances in neuroscience might best be applied to the workplace can bring about amazing results in performance and productivity. The best news of all is that it doesn’t take a big organisational overhaul. Incorporating small shifts in thinking and doing yield big results.


  . Adair Jones is a writing and communications expert with over 20 years experience. She contributes regularly to newspapers, magazines and online journals and has won awards for her fiction. Writing about developments in neuroscience is her latest passion. . . .  

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Disconnect: what science knows versus what business does

Posted on June 23, 2014. Filed under: Events | Tags: , , , , , , , |



2014 National Retailers Association Conference Jupiters Hotel & Casino, Gold Coast


On the weekend of June 14-15, 2014, Linda Ray and Tara Neven, co-founders and co-directors of neuresource group, headed down to Jupiters Hotel & Casino on the Gold Coast for the National Retailers Association (NRA) Conference. Both had important roles to fill –  Neven as the conference host and Ray as an ‘Insight’ speaker.

The summit was the first of its kind for the National Retailers Association with a specific focus on “people and operations development” (also known as POD). The POD concept provides a unique platform for applying groundbreaking ideas to the world of retail –  and, for that matter, event management.

Neven said. “I’ve been very impressed with how acute and far-sighted the organisers have been to include some of our ideas in order to make the summit more brain-friendly. This includes offering brain-friendly food, delivering content in ‘chunks’, and giving practical applications as to how neuroscience can change the way people work.”


Linda Ray

Ray’s keynote address focused on the disconnect between what science knows and what business does. For example, in order for people to remain productive, people need to be kept in a ‘reward’ state. This isn’t necessarily about money or accolades, rather, it refers to how the brain is organised.  At any given moment, we can be either calm and engaged, moving towards an experience, or we can feel threatened and want to move away from an experience –  in other words, so stressed we feel pushed into a fight or flight state. The problem is that many workplaces are set up in such a way that people are kept uncertain, worried about status, with little autonomy. A command-and-control hierarchy actually prevents people from being productive.

Science tells us that we can do only one thing at a time, and yet more and more demands are heaped on our heads. We are asked to do more with less support. Time is fractured by long meetings and constant interruptions. Multitasking is a myth and yet many businesses require their employees to switch tasks all day long. Not only does this tire the brain, leading to increasing ineffectiveness, but it can take up to 23 minutes to get back into the thinking space you were in before the interruption.

“It’s a wonder we get anything done at all,” Ray says.

She has a solution, however. Science has shown that adjusting one’s attention can have a big impact on focus. Being aware of your awareness builds ‘attentional intelligence’, a term Ray coined in 2012. She defines attentional Intelligence is an intelligence which when highly developed allows you to effortlessly but ‘mindfully’ notice where your attention is at any moment and to intentionally choose where you want it to be.

“The problem is,” Ray adds, “most workplaces are hives of distraction. We need to find ways to offer quiet spaces for long stretches of time, as well as open areas for meetings and social connections.”

The brain-friendly organisation accommodates all kinds of work tasks and all types of work preferences.

We know from science that the brain resists change.  However, many businesses are constantly seeking new ways of doing things, often implementing change plans without considering that employees feel stressed when changes are announced and they are naturally designed to revert to old ways of doing things when they feel stress. Handled the wrong way –  by not considering the neuroscience of change, in other words –  means a change plan is set for failure even before it’s been implemented.

“The paradox is that the brain is highly plastic throughout our lives, so we know we can change. We just have to get the formula right, Ray says.

It can take anywhere from 18 – 236 days for a planned change  to become a habit. It is no wonder, then, that a big issue facing organisations attempting to implement a change plan is that change doesn’t always happen to the proposed schedule and it doesn’t always ‘stick’. Even when employees are well-prepared and amenable, it’s still important to communicate openly (avoiding threat states), focus on areas of resistance (developing emotional intelligence), and remain patient. In time, brains can be rewired to accept new processes and procedures in ways that are sustainable over the long-term.

Ray left the audience with a final question: “What can you do when you get back to work to address the disconnect between what science knows and what your business does?”

She suggests it might be time to do something different.

“All of the speakers offered solid insights and emphasised  that engagement, vulnerability, and a focus on increasing the number of women in senior leadership were the way forward,” adds Neven. “And we think the best way to do this is to use what we’re learning from neuroscience in our business practices.”










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Balancing act: the neuroscience of negotiation

Posted on June 12, 2014. Filed under: Our Leaders Say | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |


Adair Jones, a Brainwaves for Leaders staff writer, looks at what we can learn from neurobiology in order to improve negotiation and mediation processes. 



Pencil on a finger


Emotions are central

In Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain (1995)neuroscientist Antonio Damasio outlined a groundbreaking discovery. He studied people with damage in the part of the brain where emotions are generated. He found that they seemed normal, except that they were not able to feel emotions. But they all had something peculiar in common: they also couldn’t make decisions. They could describe what they should be doing in logical terms, yet they found it very difficult to make even simple decisions. This means that even when we believe we are motivated by logic, the very point of making a decision is based on emotion. Damasio’s discovery has had a profound impact on those who are involved with negotiation and mediation processes.

Jim Camp, the founder and CEO of The Camp Negotiation Institute, believes that:

In general, if you can get the other party to reveal their problems, pain, and unmet objectives, then you can build a vision for them of their problem, with you and your proposal as the solution. They won’t make their decision because it is logical. They’ll make their decision because you have helped them feel that it’s to their advantage to do so.


Ten neuro-principles of the negotiation process

Building on Damasio’s work, mediation specialist  Jeremy Lack and his colleague François Bogacz, an expert negotiator, posit ten ‘neuro-principles’ that influence negotiation and dispute resolution situations:

    1.  We consume our brain’s resources efficiently, and create patterns/scripts/memories
    2.  We predict according to our patterns/scripts/memories
    3.  We are conditioned to avoid and be far more sensitive to danger/fear than to  reward/pleasure, which we seek 
    4.  We first perceive via emotions (unconsciously) before being able to self-regulate (consciously or by habit)
    5.  We seek safe or comfortable status positions at all times
    6.  We relate and empathise in-group (but not ‘out-of-group’)
    7.  We believe in ‘fairness’ and react negatively to ‘unfair’ behavior
    8.  We need autonomy/feelings of autonomy and feel/suffer if it is lost
    9.  Our ‘social’ stimuli are as powerful as our ‘physical’ ones
    10.  We operate cognitively in two gears (‘reflexive’& ‘refleCtive’ modes) but tend to favour X-mode

According to their research, these principles have practical implications for the way negotiators can prepare, generate options, and seek compliance.They also reveal insight into how mediators and leaders can best intervene in conflict prevention and resolution processes.


The cognitive bias effect

Since all information is perceived, filtered, distorted, and framed according to individual patterns, scripts, and memories, and since decisions are based on emotions, cognitive bias plays a huge role in how negotiations unfold. Bias can take many forms, but there are those that directly affect negotiation, ranging from an irrational escalation of commitment to the mythical belief that the issues under negotiation are all fixed to the process of reactive devaluation.

For example, initial commitments may become set in stone, and a desire for consistency prevents negotiators from changing them. This desire for consistency is often exacerbated by a desire to save face or to maintain an impression of expertise or control in front of others. No one likes to admit error or failure, especially when the other party may perceive doing so as a weakness. And then, all too often, negotiators approach negotiation opportunities as zero-sum situations or win–lose exchanges. They assume there is no possibility for integrative settlements or mutually beneficial trade-offs, and they suppress efforts to search for them. Reactive devaluation is the process of devaluing the other party’s concessions. The very offer of a particular proposal or concession — especially if the offer comes from an adversary — may diminish its apparent value or attractiveness in the eyes of the recipient.

As you can see, each of the biases described above could potentially operate as a significant barrier to agreement. And these are only a few of the cognitive and psychological factors at play in a given negotiation process. (See our comprehensive list of cognitive biases.)

Gender matters

15_Glass_Ceiling_6045There’s another aspect worth noting. For all the advances women have made in the workplace, when it comes to negotiation unconscious bias works against women more than it does men.

Sheryl Sandberg, the author of Lean In and the chief operating officer of Facebook, recognises the difficulties of negotiation. However, she urges women not to be paralysed by fear but to take direct actions in their own best interest.  Nevertheless, many psychologists who study the role of gender in negotiation advise otherwise.

This type of caution is confirmed by Hannah Riley Bowles, a senior lecturer at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and the director of the Women and Power program, who has been researching gender effects on negotiation. Using the results of laboratory studies, case studies, and extensive interviews with executives and employees in diverse fields, she concludes that our implicit gender perceptions mean that much of the advice women are given may not have the intended effect. As much as we hear that women should stand up for themselves and assert their position strongly in negotiations, it can and often does backfire.

In several studies, Bowles and her colleagues found that people penalised women who initiated negotiations for higher compensation more than they did men. According to an article by Maria Konnikova for The New Yorker, “the effect held whether they saw the negotiation on video or read about it on paper, whether they viewed it from a disinterested third-party perspective or imagined themselves as senior managers in a corporation evaluating an internal candidate.”

A delicate balancing act

So what can be done?

Lack and Bogacz offer some suggestions. First, priming, framing or reformulating are very important, as they offer ways to shape how initial patterns of behavior and negotiations unfold. Even the use of a single word – like keep instead of lose – in the presentation of options can unconsciously influence the conscious choices people make. Furthermore, in addition to words, we need to be conscious of the para-verbal and non-verbal communications that pervade negotiations and group dynamics.

Lack advances a view of mediation that tries to take neurobiology into account, claiming that it is not simply facilitated negotiation, but a facilitated social, emotional, and cognitive process. He considers the social and in-group scripts that are triggered by the process itself to be a key concern and feels that attention should be given to  how participants are primed and prepared for coming into the process.

In the words of mediator David Plant (who died in 2012), “We have to start by defining the process as part of the problem.” We need to be aware of human tendencies and how they might influence negotiation. And, finally, we need to be aware of how our own perceptions influence outcomes and how the process itself can trigger first impressions and affect the participants’ social scripts and patterns.

Emotions and emotional intelligence should be seen as central to effective negotiation, rather than something to be overcome. Teasing out which cognitive biases might be involved in a given situation is also critical. It’s a delicate, sometimes perilous balancing act – there are just too many complex variables involved. By applying what we are learning from neuroscience, however, we may arrive at the negotiating table with an advantage.



. .
Adair Jones is a writing and communications expert with over 20 years experience. She contributes regularly to newspapers, magazines and online journals and has won awards for her fiction. Writing about developments in neuroscience is her latest passion.

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Professional flow in the brain-friendly workplace

Posted on June 5, 2014. Filed under: Interesting Articles | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , |

Dr. Erika Garms transforms theory into practical, exciting tools and strategies for professionals.  Her focus is to incorporate brain science research into existing workplace practices to yield lasting behavior change and learning. In this article, she looks at how getting in a flow state engenders deep engagement, something that positively impacts organisational productivity.





I would venture to guess that most of you have experienced the feeling of being “in the zone” with your professional work. By that I mean feeling perfectly challenged so that you are engaged, just slightly pulled outside of your comfort zone, and also supported in your learning and risk-taking. Perhaps you felt this when you took a lead role in an area in which you were less familiar, or on a project that represented some newness or risk to you. You may have been “in the zone” after having intentionally learned and practiced a skill.

Professor and author Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi refers to this beautiful balance in the place between challenge and anxiety as being “in flow.” When we can pinpoint for ourselves what kind of external and internal factors have allowed for us to be in “flow” in the past, we may be able to re-create this zone. I think I’ve done that, and I want to share with you what this zone is for me, as a preface to a four-part Human Capital Community of Practice blog series on brain-friendly workplaces.

Throughout my career, I have needed to understand why things worked, or didn’t. It isn’t comfortable—or self-respecting—to me to grab a popular teaching method or a culture change system (for example) and impose it onto learners or employees in good faith. There were times at meetings with colleagues that I know I was the oddball, having not yet started to use an approach that everyone else had incorporated into their work environments. But unless I knew that the approach was safe—that the intended and unintended outcomes of trying it out would not harm people consciously or subconsciously—I didn’t feel it was in good conscience to use it.

Concern for organisation and individual

Though at first blush it may seem at odds with the organizational effectiveness focus, humanness in the workplace has also been extremely important to me since I first set foot in the labour pool. The compelling central idea for me has been that workplaces and the people within them must treat each other with respect, first and foremost. With record high use of short-term disability leave and worker’s compensation for anxiety and depression in the workplace, a sharp rise in workplace bullying, and mind-numbing malaise and disconnection, those in today’s workforce need support.

I’d used brain science for decades in learning contexts, but when I began to integrate brain science with management theory, change theory, leadership theory, and organisational behavior, my head exploded (in a good way). Now, after working at the intersection of neuroscience, sociology, learning, and organisation development for years, I can tell you with certainty that this is my “super-flow” zone. In this line of study and work, I get to apply research from connected fields of study to individuals to help them grow and change. I also am fortunate to take a whole system organisation view to bring positive change to entire workplaces, which is very fulfilling. And even more broadly, from my little spot in the world, I feel that I am contributing useful ideas and practices to help the morphing shape of work and the workplace in a time when people and their organisations are struggling in many ways.

Introducing brain-friendliness

In The Brain-Friendly Workplace: Five Big Ideas From Neuroscience That Address Organizational Challenges (ASTD Press, 2014), I define brain-friendly workplaces as organisations where people are able to do their best thinking and produce great work in vibrant, healthy environments.

I’ll lay out the ideas behind brain-friendliness here, and invite your comments in response. Brain-friendliness in the workplace combines tenets of good management, effective leadership, organisational health and wellbeing, positive and productive cultures, and humanity and respect. It is equal parts organisation effectiveness and positive psychology. While it can start in one work group, it is ideal when the entire organisational culture has embraced the foundations of brain-friendliness and the principles are embedded at all levels.

Personal interaction habits

Though it is better to have some work groups practicing brain-friendliness than none at all, it can also be anxiety-producing to our brains to witness misalignments within an organisation. Have you worked in a company where leadership touted a set of particular values, but in action, the rewards and performance management systems reinforced very different kinds of values and behaviors? This is internal contradiction, and it generates distrust. Distrust engenders disengagement. Disengagement kills productivity, and the whole organisation’s success metrics suffer.

Brain-friendly workplaces make practical use of the neuroscience that shows us how we make sense of information; how we interpret language; how we move toward goals; how we change and learn; and how to manage our own emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. Informed by the field of neuroleadership, brain-friendly workplaces also have a point of view about collaboration and decision-making that informs certain routines and procedures.

As we’ll see in next week’s blog post, brain-friendly workplaces share some characteristics with organisations that boast high employee engagement or high productivity. Stay tuned!


This article, the first in an ongoing series, was first published on the ASTD blog in April 2014.



erika garms copyDr. Erika Garms transforms theory into practical, exciting tools and strategies for professionals.  Erika works with learning and development and organization development practitioners to incorporate brain science research into their existing approaches to yield lasting behavior change and learning. She helps business leaders and managers shape brain-friendly workplaces where people can do their best work, work effectively together on high-performing teams, and maintain healthy and thriving work environments.

Erika considers herself both a humanist and a social scientist, intrigued by blending the art and science of learning, performance, and change. Erika earned her BA and MA from the University of Colorado at Boulder and a PhD from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. She completed a post-graduate program in neuroscience of leadership from the NeuroLeadership Insitute and University of Sussex.  Erika also leads the Minneapolis-St. Paul NeuroLeadership Institute Local Interest Group, one of just a handful in the U.S. at this time. Erika is a regular workshop, keynote, retreat, and breakout session speaker.


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Mental priming: a powerful tool for high performance

Posted on May 22, 2014. Filed under: Our Leaders Say | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Adair Jones, a Brainwaves for Leaders staff writer, discusses how business leaders can adapt the techniques elite athletes use to perform at their best in high-stakes circumstances.




Mental priming has been widely used in sports training with great success. Now advances in neuroscience provide real evidence to show how mental priming functions in the brain. Leaders and managers who embrace the field of neuroleadership have adapted the method sports coaches employ to enhance their own performance and to foster those of their employees. Utilising priming even in small doses has seen dramatic improvements in both workplace engagement and productivity. Here are a few tools you can borrow.

Mental imagery

Imagine you’ve been asked to give a high stakes presentation to a large audience. Did your palms begin to sweat? Nearly everyone suffers from performance anxiety, but there are ways to subdue it.

Intense pre-event preparation can transform your experience. You might even enjoy yourself.

Mental imagery is one technique you can practice in the days and weeks before a big event. Whenever panicky feelings arise, imagine you are taking the podium feeling really confident and relaxed. You look at the audience, take a deep breath, and smile. Imagine enjoying yourself and think about the sense of accomplishment you’ll feel afterwards.

Almost all elite athletes and most sports psychologists employ this kind of mental imagery, and it’s worth adapting their techniques to the more complex workplace environment. Stress, fatigue, a brain deprived of oxygen from sitting down all day, fear of failure, constant interruptions, deadlines are everyday obstacles to peak mental performance. As for focus, which is everything to an athlete, many workers learn to get by on divided attention.


Managing emotions is also critical, since emotional stress downgrades brain function into survival mode. All too often, negative emotions spill over from one interaction to the next, carrying with it an emotional wake that affects everyone you comes into contact with. Researchers from Deakin University have found that when employees are trained to take a moment between work and home to reflect, rest, and create a positive intention for their next behaviour, their mood on arriving home improved by as much as 41 per cent.

Subconscious factors

In addition to focused visualisation, emotional regulation and a good distraction management plan, workplaces can intentionally create positive environments that prime for high performance by appealing to employees’ subconscious influences.

2-working-together-gatesA series of studies reported in Europe’s Journal of Psychology has found that prosocial behavior can be increased if a person is subjected to messages that encourage collaborative or helping behavior. These messages may not be seen or noticed consciously but the limbic drivers of prosocial behavior see them and take note. What this means in practice is that if you are giving workshops in collaborative behavior it’s a good idea to gently prime the attendees to do the right thing both before and after the workshops.

It’s not just what we do in the moment, but what we bring to the moment is also an important factor. Dr Fei Song of Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Management and her colleagues also studied the subconscious behaviour of employees and their drive to compete. Focusing on gender roles, the research suggests that gender stereotypes originate from the social roles that men and women have traditionally occupied in a society.

“Stereotypes are learned early in life, become part of one’s cultural understanding, and are internalised as personal beliefs and values,” says Song. “People extend stereotypes to develop self-concepts, which are characterised by associations between the self and stereotypical personality traits, abilities and roles. Such stereotypes are likely closely related to the differing levels of competitiveness exhibited on average by men and women.”

The participants in the study were drawn from male and female MBA students at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. The authors hypothesised that women who chose to follow such a professional career path would often experience conflicting role identities: a professional identity that is highly competitive, competent and ambitious and a gender/family identity that is warm, supportive and caring.

Song’s findings reveal that we bring our own deeply held perspectives and cognitive biases to the workplace. This means that the positive priming that works for one person might not be right for another. Finding ways to educate individuals about their own motivations and the factors that influence performance is an important step.

The power of priming

Positive priming, when used properly, can provide increased motivation, better mood, and ultimately higher performance. However, because priming works on the subconscious level, it’s important to remember we are as much influenced by negative environmental cues as positive ones. If priming people with a positive word can change both their moods and their work performance, the wrong word or tone as well as negative subliminal messages can change things for the worse.

In addition to understanding their own complex motivational psyche, strong leaders need to understand what motivates each of their employees and to what degree. They must pay careful attention to the kind of information – every single word, in fact – their employees are exposed to.



. .
Adair Jones is a writing and communications expert with over 20 years experience. She contributes regularly to newspapers, magazines and online journals and has won awards for her fiction. Writing about developments in neuroscience is her latest adventure.





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Attention and the brain’s anti-distraction mechanism

Posted on May 15, 2014. Filed under: Attention Matters, Linda Ray | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Linda Ray, the co-founder and co-director of neuresource group, coined the term “attentional intelligence” in 2012. In this post, she looks at a recent study that shows the brain has a built-in anti-distraction mechanism, which assists us in maintaining focus.


Where's Waldo?

Where’s Waldo?



New research

Something as simple as picking out a face in the crowd is actually quite a complicated task: Your brain has to retrieve the memory of the face you’re seeking, then hold it in place while scanning the crowd, paying special attention to finding a match.

This type of attention is known as object-based attention, something scientists know much less about than spatial attention, which involves focusing on what’s happening in a particular location. However, new findings suggest that these two types of attention have similar mechanisms involving related brain regions, says Robert Desimone, the director of MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research, and senior author of the paper.

“The interactions are surprisingly similar to those seen in spatial attention,” Desimone says. “It seems like it’s a parallel process involving different areas.”

In both cases, the prefrontal cortex — the control center for most cognitive functions — appears to take charge of the brain’s attention and control relevant parts of the visual cortex, which receives sensory input. For spatial attention, that involves regions of the visual cortex that map to a particular area within the visual field.

Another study, undertaken by John Gaspar and John McDonald from the Department of Psychology at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, learned that to find objects of interest in a cluttered and continually changing visual environment, humans must often ignore salient stimuli that are not currently relevant to the task at hand.

“This is an important discovery for neuroscientists and psychologists because most contemporary ideas of attention highlight brain processes that are involved in picking out relevant objects from the visual field. It’s like finding Waldo in a Where’s Waldo illustration.” said Gaspar.

Gaspar continued: “Our results show clearly that this is only one part of the equation and that active suppression of the irrelevant objects is another important part.”

The study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, involved 47 students carrying out a visual search task while their brain signals were monitored.


Why this is relevant

Because of the increase in distracting consumer devices in our technology-driven, fast-paced society, the psychologists say their discovery could help scientists and clinicians better treat patients with distraction-related attention deficits.

“Distraction is a leading cause of injury and death in driving and other high-stakes environments,” notes senior author McDonald. “There are individual differences in the ability to deal with distraction. New electronic products are designed to grab attention. Suppressing such signals takes effort, and sometimes people can’t seem to do it.”

The researchers are now studying how we deal with distraction. They’re looking at when and why we can’t suppress potentially distracting objects, and why some of us are better at this than others.

Ultimately, the goal is to find ways of sustaining attention longer. By accepting that distractions are a part of everyday working life and trusting in the brain’s built-in system to focus selectively by ignoring irrelevant details, we can become skilled in brushing away interruptions when they intrude. By developing attentional intelligence – paying attention on purpose – we can generate brain wave patterns that strengthen the sustained concentration involved in focused attention.

As Jeffrey Schwartz, one of the world’s leading experts in neuroplasticity and co-founder of the neuroleadership field, says in The Mind and the Brain:

Control of attention is the ultimate individual power. People who can do that are not prisoners of the stimuli around them. They can choose from the patterns in the world and lengthen their time horizons. This individual power leads to others. It leads to self-control, the ability to formulate strategies in order to resist impulses. If forced to choose, we would all rather our children be poor with self-control than rich without it.





Linda is the Managing Director of NeuroCapability and the co-founder/director of neuresource groupThese organisations are playing key roles in developing a new generation of thinking leaders through delivery of the Diploma of Neuroscience of Leadership and other innovative programs informed by neuroscience.  Linda is gaining recognition both in Australia and internationally as a thought leader in the neuroleadership field.  She is actively contributing to the body of knowledge that supports the building of individual and organisational ‘neurocapability’.



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The Power of Emotional Intelligence

Posted on May 8, 2014. Filed under: Interesting Articles | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Charles Coy, the Senior Director of Analyst and Community Relations at Cornerstone, considers innovations in talent management and speaks about the power emotional intelligence adds to our businesses.




When companies are recruiting or assessing a candidate’s capacity for a position, it’s not uncommon for them to administer a personality test such as the Myers-Briggs. While personality tests may offer some insight, they fail to capture a key indicator for success — emotional intelligence. For example, hiring extroverts for sales positions is a tried and true practice, but based on a personality test, an employer can’t tell whether a candidate will be persistent enough to develop and close new deals. Emotional intelligence (EQ) involves a person’s capacity to be empathetic, maintain optimism in the face of adversity, provide clear thinking and remain composed in stressful situations — all important traits for a leader or team player. When used as an alternative or supplemental tool in the recruiting process, testing emotional intelligence can yield significant long-term results.

“An employee with high emotional intelligence can manage his or her impulses, communicate with others effectively, manage change well, solve problems, and use humor to build rapport in tense situations,” says Mike Poskey, vice president of human resources consulting firm ZeroRisk.

Instead of looking at personality and experience, companies are increasingly incorporating EQ into the recruitment process. One in four hiring managers say they are placing greater emphasis on emotional intelligence when hiring and promoting in the wake of the recession, according to a Career Builder survey.

Emotional Intelligence Programs at Work

There’s no doubt that there’s value in evaluating job candidates based on their emotional intelligence, but how do companies put that into action? Here’s how three companies are employing emotional intelligence programs:

Become centered

Google, known for its innovative programs, offers emotional intelligence training to help employees find their inner peace and a state of meditation. More than 1,000 employees have completed the Search Inside Yourself (SIY) program, developed by Chade-Meng Tan, Google’s resident “Jolly Good Fellow,” according to Wired. Employees learn about the five crucial skills of empathy, motivation, social skills, self-awareness and self-regulation.

Teach soft skills

The world’s second-largest construction equipment maker Komatsu looked to increase the emotional intelligence of its employees after the economic plummet in Europe by first conducting engagement surveys and addressing issues that were top of mind for employees. Managers and employees alike participated in a leadership program that encouraged innovation and developed people-based skills.

Hire for retention

To tackle the problem of high turnover, auto dealer Park Place Dealerships focused on emotional intelligence during the recruiting process. The company evaluated a candidate’s emotional response to various phrases such as “With this ring, I thee wed.” After integrating emotional intelligence into the hiring process, sales employee turnover decreased from 60 percent to 12 percent on an annual basis, according to Chief Learning Officer.

3 Tips for Integrating EQ into Recruitment

Baking emotional intelligence into the evaluation process is easy with these three steps, notes Anna Gibbons, corporate communications manager at recruitment agency Sellick Partnership:

  1. Write a job description that goes beyond qualifications to describe softer skills required, such as adaptability, communication skills, teamwork and motivation.
  2. Employ psychometric testing, such as the Thomas International Personal Profile Analysis (PPA), to identify what motivates candidates and how they react under pressure.
  3. Pay attention to a candidate’s body language and word choice — they can greatly impact first instincts, which hiring managers should always take into account.

“In every decision, emotions count,” Max Ghini, director of global strategy for emotional intelligence consulting firm Six Seconds, told Chief Learning Officer. “Better engagement is key for bottom line, and emotional intelligence is greatly connected to organisational performance.”


charles coy

Charles Coy is the Senior Director of Analyst and Community Relations at Cornerstone. He is responsible for getting the word out about Cornerstone as a company, as well as evangelizing Cornerstone’s innovation in talent management technology solutions. Charles continues to be interested in the ways that technology can impact how organizations evaluate, motivate and value their employees.

Charles brings a background in public policy analysis and research to Cornerstone. Having studied regional economic development and education policy, Charles originally came to the company with an interest in the convergence of technology and higher education.  He has worked in marketing, sales, and corporate development at Cornerstone since the early days of the company more than a decade ago.

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