Learning how the brain works

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Learning how the brain works

Last week I hosted my first event for the series Talk/50. The topic was communications and neuroscience and I invited author Hilary Scarlett to present her thoughts on the topic from her experience. It was really good to have a mixture of communicators, leaders and business owners attend and engage together. I thought I’d reflect here on what I learned.

Neuroscience is something I had heard of but not fully understood. When I started to read up on it I realised it was a valuable area to explore and had to find a way to share it.

I think that to truly be strategic we need to understand more. Understand business and how it works, business leaders and what drives their activities and decisions. We do this to support and become trusted advisers, aligning communications to business strategy. WE also need to understand audience to identify the most effective way to engage and connect with people. To shape and deliver communications that resonates and has impact.

As I learned more about neuroscience, I realised how important is was to also understand the brain and how it works. Why we respond the way we do and our reaction to the things we hear, see or perceive.

Hilary shared, in a very practical way, the science behind how our brains work and why it is important to take a look at this area. Her work focuses on performance and change, and looking at how this can be impacted through neuroscience. Here are some of my takeaways:

  • Threat and reward both have an impact on us, but threat is far stronger than reward. It’s all about survival and the brain is looking for detail to ensure we are protected. When we communicate we need to consider and address this by providing the right level of information.
  • Our brain craves information and is always looking to predict, if we don’t get this and there is no information, this feeds into the ‘threat’ mode and we can start to overthink things. Again, it is important to be open and share information with employees – communicate well and regularly to ensure we provide what people need. According to Hilary Scarlett: “Change that feels unpredictable and uncontrollable is stressful to the brain”.
  • Audience is important. Our brains are interpreting what it receives – we are all different so our brain filters information differently – that’s why we need to consider audience and find ways to communicate clearly and consistently, using a number of methods to share the same message.
  • The assumption that people understand and are engaged with information, just because an email has been sent or a campaign with messages has gone out, is false. Your understanding that the detail provided is correct or enough might not be received in the same way by everyone else. As a leader you will probably have more control and insight, so consider this when communicating with employees.
  • Our brains are powerful and complex, demonstrating how amazing we are as humans. The study of neuroscience can be applied to many areas of our lives and work. Some of the examples of these include communication, storytelling, performance leadership behaviour, change, empathy and managing mental energy.

It just so happens that we were looking at all of this in the midst of a global pandemic, something few of us have had to deal with before. The result of this means that we have to adjust how we work and live – and it’s difficult. How this threat is perceived is different for each person. I would encourage those who have employees and/or customers to communicate well and be clear about as much as you can in this time. People will be reacting differently – our brains will be trying hard to predict and protect. So, information, social connection and being mindful of one another is most important and will help to make a difference.