Afraid to try? What a toxic culture does to your brain…

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Pixabay – intographics

As a leader, you have the opportunity and responsibility to shape the culture and environment in which your team functions. From experience, I know first hand the joys of working for a leader that values your effort and encourages innovation.  It’s energizing and fun.  It’s where you want to be and you’ll give more effort toward reaching the goal than money can buy. You are a part of the story that’s making a difference for others. You are inspired to make the vision a reality because you know what you do matters and you believe in the vision.

On the other hand, when the leader changes and connections diminish.  You lose the passion for the career you chose and it simply becomes a job.  You only stay because you’re not sure what else is out there and you hope if you just keep your head down and don’t make eye contact that it will get better.  It often doesn’t and those leaders don’t tend to move on quickly. Not only does trust fail, but the damage that working environment or relationship does to your mental and physical health is disturbing.

What happens when fear becomes toxic?

As Simon Sinek (2014) discussed in “Why Leaders Eat Last, “we are hardwired to ensure our survival.  Our primitive brains haven’t caught up to cultures that we live in.  Our legacy survival systems, as Sinek, pointed out continue to ensure that whether something is life threatening or just stressful our bodies respond in the same way.   The problem is that stress at work isn’t life or death, but our body releases cortisol regardless of the difference.  So when our Circle of Safety begins to fail and we begin to fear what’s happening, our body releases more cortisol (p.55-56).  In turn, cortisol inhibits oxytocin, the trust and empathy hormone. So we devote even more energy towards being suspicious of those around us at the very time we need more support from the group.  It make us more vulnerable to outside threats, less productive and startlingly less healthy.

Sinek (2014) recounted that cortisol isn’t meant to be released on an ongoing basis.  It’s meant for a short release to help you survive a dangerous time and then the system is meant to reset.  Unfortunately, work stress continues and as a result prolonged cortisol works against us.  Sinek explained that cortisol:

  • affects glucose release
  • increases blood pressure and inflammatory response
  • impairs cognitive ability
  • increases aggression
  • suppresses sex drive
  • it prepares us for fight or flight and in doing so it shuts down digestion, growth and the immune system.  It makes sure all energy is redirected toward only essential fight or flight systems.
    (p. 56)

Guess what that does to your long term health… It’s not good.

So does the culture and environment of your workplace matter?

YES

Workplaces that foster connections and increased trust decrease cortisol release and let oxytocin and serotonin work to foster cooperation (p. 58).

It’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it…

Knowing that our brain is impacted by our primal instinct for survival means that we not only pick up on what is said, we notice how the body says it.   Over the past year, I’ve attended sessions and worked 1:1 with Carla Gradin, body language trainer.  She referred to the fact that our primal brain is designed to ensure our survival.  As a result, how our brain reads body language also impacts our response. She explained that the first part of the body our brains notice is our hands.  Where you put your hands tells us if you are a friend or foe. If the palms of my hands aren’t visible during an interaction, your brain is questioning my motives.  If I reach to shake your hand palm down, your brain is considering whether or not I’m concealing a weapon.  If you want to build positive connections with people, your body language needs to say the same thing you are (Speak up and Stand Out, Carla Gradin, p. 8).

Cloud (2013) noted “research suggests, people don’t leave jobs — they leave bosses” (Boundaries for Leaders, p. 56).  He too drew the connection to our primal brain and stressed that it’s not just what a leader says, it’s how a leader communicates that causes our brains to revert back to fight or flight (p. 56).

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Pixabay – Counselling

Covey (2006) cited John Gardner, “One of the reasons people stop learning is that they become less and less willing to risk failure” (Speed of Trust, p. 178).  So what’s one reason we fear failure?  To be honest, failure – trial and error, is how we learn.  We try it one way and when it doesn’t work we learn from what we did and try again.  Why is it that some teams become stagnant and stall out rather than take a chance?

Cloud (2013) explained that it’s all about the right kind of fear.  There’s positive stress that helps you get your taxes in on time.  The stress that helps you meet the deadline, yet in the process you never lose sight of the goal.  It helps us focus on closing the gap (p. 65).  If you cross over into the realm of toxic stress as Sinek (2014) and Covey (2006) also mentioned, then your primitive brain takes over and productivity decreases (Boundaries for Leaders, p. 67).

People can’t learn from mistakes if they are too “afraid of what you might do to [them]” (Boundaries for Leaders, p. 74).  People need to know that their leader is there for them during times of success, but more importantly, a true leader stands by them and helps them learn from their mistakes (p. 71).

It’s a fine line between healthy, motivating stress and debilitating, toxic fear.  The first step as a leader is reflecting on the culture you have created and realizing that a team united on the same path with healthy brains will always out perform a team paralyzed in fear.

To fail is to begin again knowing one more way that doesn’t work.  It’s a culture shift worth pursuing because the resilience of our students and teams depends on their ability to learn from their experiences rather than being derailed by them.  And that begins with you!


Resources Referenced: 

Other articles:

Connections – United we stand…

Connections build a united culture… (Connections Part 2)

hand-1030565_960_720Pixabay – Geralt

United we stand, divided we fall … the leadership choices that you make today shape the culture you live in tomorrow.

If you want to increase the effectiveness of your team and achieve goals you thought were out of reach, it begins by creating a culture in which people not only feel safe, they feel valued.

In “Leaders Eat Last,” Simon Sinek (2014) introduced us to the Circle of Safety.   Knowing that you are part of the circle of safety frees up people’s minds to focus on the team’s goals.  When a leader creates a culture where you “trust that the people to the left…[and] to the right of us have our backs, the better equipped we are to face the constant threats from outside together” (p. 22). Sinek wrote that you can feel it.  You can feel when you are surrounded by the circle of safety.  We feel valued and cared for by our colleagues and superiors.  We feel like we belong and our confidence grows along with our connections.  All of the group’s energy is directed towards the greater good (p. 24).

group-157841_960_720Pixabay OpenClipart-Vectors

When the circle begins to falter, we become suspicious of those around us and our brains go into survival mode. Our energy is redirected into watching for the dangers all around us instead of trusting our team (Leaders Eat Last, p. 22).  When trust goes down, speed goes down and costs go up (Speed of Trust, 2006, p. 13).  Trust, as Covey (2006) pointed out, is one of the most highly valued competencies of the new global economy (p. 21).

Daniel, Schwier and McCalla (2003) pointed out that “in almost every discussion of social capital, trust is treated as a central variable” (p. 6). While the development of social capital isn’t as simple as a direct cause and effect relationship with trust, Daniel et. al. noted that opportunities for positive social interactions do build trust.  Over time, increased trust is an integral part of growing social capital within a community (p. 6).

trust-1418901_960_720Pixabay – lcaroselli

In recent body language and confidence workshops and coaching sessions, Carla Gradin (2015-16) shared building connections is all about building on your know, like and trust factors.  As soon as you meet someone their brain automatically starts to process their first impression of you. Keep in mind first impressions happen in 2-3 seconds, likely before you’ve actually said anything (Gradin, 2015, p. 9). She reminded that our primitive brains immediately sort people into 4 categories:

  1. Friend
  2. Foe
  3. Sexual Partner
  4. Indifferent
    (page 8)

So if you want to build positive connections with people not only does what you say matter, how you say it has more impact than you think. Gradin reinforced Sinek’s 2009 TED Talk comment

“that people don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it”
(minute 4:00).

In order to believe your why, people need to make a connection with you.  Gradin noted that people first notice your hands.  If I can’t see your hands or more specifically the palms of your hands, my primitive brain becomes quite concerned with what you are hiding and if you are a threat (p. 8).  Even palms facing down tells my brain that you could be hiding a weapon and I need to be on alert.  The story people’s body language tells is often more honest than what people actually say.

So how can you help build connections?

Touch, builds connection.  As Sinek (2014) explained in Leaders Eat Last, it’s all about the hormones.  Oxytocin in the right balance can enhance positive, trusting connections. Gradin (2015) explained that when we touch people, it has the potential to release oxytocin, “which can evoke the same feeling of connection equal to 3 hours of talk time” (p.10).  In Super Better, Jane McGonigal (2015) explained “touch and gratitude are two of the most effective” (p. 17) ways to increase your social resilience.  In particular, McGonigal noted that 6 seconds of holding hands or touching someone not only increased your oxytocin level but theirs as well.  The more oxytocin you release the more likely you are to help and protect that person which deepens your connection (p. 18).  Gradin added that when shaking someone’s hand making eye contact also enhances oxytocin release (p. 10).

Interestingly, McGonigal highlighted research by Dr. Robert Emmons & Cheryl A. Crumpler along with Sara B. Algoe, Jonathan Haidt and Shelly L. Gable when she wrote:

“gratitude is the single most important relationship-strengthening emotion because, as researchers explain, ‘it requires us to see how we’ve been supported and affirmed by other people'” (p. 18).

It turns out that expressing your appreciation is one of the best ways to build positive connections with others (McGonigal, p. 18), which is why Gradin highlighted the significance of the handshake.  When done well, it’s a socially accepted greeting that can enhance how people see your agreeableness (you appear more extroverted), your open mindedness and your emotional stability (p. 10).  Wonder what a great handshake is – check out our video on the handshake.

Interested in learning specific behaviours that can increase your trust factor?  Check out our next post on Covey’s Recommended Trust Building Behaviours.

 


 Resources Referenced:

Tech-addict? Tech-Balanced? Is it really changing us or has it already?

Tech-addict? Tech-Balanced? Is it really changing us or has it already?

The Unhealthy habit? Are you aware of the choices you are making?

Tuesday also featured a lively debate on whether or not Technology is making our kids unhealthy…… is it making you unhealthy?

While Fitbits, health apps and Facebook groups may inspire us to build healthy habits, foster social connections and remind us to get moving, I can’t help but wonder just how much technology is affecting our lives.  Have you ever stopped to think how it’s shaping our daily habits and interactions?

wendy_brian_kidsIncluded with permission from © Eric Pickersgill
From Removed
Photographer, Eric Pickersgill, “has released a series of photos from everyday life with one minor adjustment: all electronic devices have been removed.” (Denicola, 2015, para. 3).
(You can view the series online at www.removed.social – it’s worth taking a look.  Is this how you want to be remembered?  What’s happening to our face to face connections?)

Thanks Eric Pickersgill for his suggestion to check out his TED Talk
Do Our Devices Divide Us?
He reflects on how it isn’t until we see ourselves with the devices
removed that the true impact hits us and has actually caused a change in behaviour.

I remember back to when I first started teaching in the fall of 1999 – cell phones, digital cameras and social media were not part of my daily habits.  The internet was alive and healthy in it’s information delivery form with interactive sharing restricted to the users that understood html, ftp and flash.  When I looked around my classroom the most distracting form of peer to peer interaction was whispering or the paper notes they quietly passed from one desk to another.  And when you ventured out into the halls at break or lunch, students were sitting next to each other talking.
25158194552_3a76a8b81cFlash forward to 2016 and when you walk down the halls of a school you will likely see students in close proximity to their cell phones.  Just think of how the mobile phone has evolved  – from the advent of texting to the immediacy of information – to students sitting next to one another staring at their phones and texting each other instead of talking.  Just to clarify this is not always the norm and I have to admit, you won’t find me far from my cell phone – it’s an integral part of how I document the interactions and stay connected to all of my schools no matter where I am in the pod. In fact, as a self admitted introvert, a device is a unique tool that connects me to selected social media connections when I want and in person it gives me a way to blend in.  Check out Why introverts love Social Media by Mack Collier for an interesting read especially for “Online extrovert[s], offline introvert[s]- it’s complicated.”

Photo Credit: BarnImages.com via Compfight cc

So we know technology has changed our lives, so much so that our brains even pick up on phantom vibrations. When’s the last time you thought your cell phone buzzed?  Did you need to check it?

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As Hatch (2011) noted while referencing Sherry Turkle, “naming technology as either good or bad will not solve the issue. “I’ve tried to get across that computers are not good or bad — they’re powerful…. I think we’re getting ourselves in a lot of trouble thinking there’s an Internet or a web that has an impact on children” (Hatch, 2011, p.4). It’s the daily habits and the way we choose to engage with technology that leaves room for our own creative interpretation – addictive or balanced.  It seems to be a common theme  – the search for Balance – using the tools around us, tech included, to help us lead a healthier life. Photo Credit: TEDxUIUC via Compfightcc

Facebook, Twitter or mobile devices for that matter don’t hurt people, it’s people that make choices on how they use the technology that truly impacts ourselves and others.

Just for a moment let’s agree that technology has the potential to connect us to many positive interactions and healthy choices in our lives. Now let’s pause and reflect on just how those devices have already shaped our lives and those of our children, so we can make informed choices not just rote, device guided interactions.
2977041097_920b2b3001Photo Credit: edmittance via Compfight cc

In the video, 5 Crazy Ways Social Media is Changing your Brain Right Now, Asap Science noted how increased device usage and instant feedback are decreasing the white matter in our brains and in fact rewiring our brains to crave that stimulation. In a 2014 Huff Post article, Lindsay Holmes explained “there is such a thing as technology addiction … [and] research from Swansea and Milan Universities also found that heavy Internet users suffered withdrawal similar to those experienced  by drug users when they went offline” (p.4).

Now if you’re like me you are probably saying, for sure that’s true but that’s definitely not me.  In Super Better, Jane McGonigal, noted that gaming up to 21 hours a week resulted in positive benefits. Over that and the positive benefits of gaming were lost. Everything has a balance. We need to listen to our own bodies and find ways to use tech to enhance rather than in inhibit our health.51ohurxogil-_sx327_bo1204203200_

If you haven’t listened to one of Jane McGonigal’s TED Talks or checked out her book Super Better, I would highly recommend it.  As she shared it’s a revolutionary approach to getting stronger, happier, braver and more resilient all powered by the science of games (it’s on the cover). It’s significantly changed my perspective on how applying the psychology of gaming can positively change our lives by building up our physical, social, mental and emotional resilience. She addressed the need for balance and shares the science behind it – in fact there’s an entire website devoted to the science behind the Super Better game.  That’s right it’s also a game – you can play.  There are so many educational applications here that it needs it’s own post,         Image from Amazon.ca
but here’s what I will say.  My daughter and I are using the strategies and I’ve recommended them to teachers to help deal with all things from behavior to learning how to read.

Holmes also identified eye strain, headaches and reduced sleep as fallout from spending extended time with our beloved devices; moreover, she highlighted staring at our phones changes our posture adding to the health costs.

23172149944_d29d8b52201During the past year I’ve been working with Carla Gradin, a body language trainer and wardrobe stylist (also a former high school math teacher). During our training sessions, she’s shared how first impressions take less than 2-3 seconds to form a lasting perspective and how power posing can change your brain chemistry. But what’s really interesting is how technology, in particular, staring at your phone closes your body language.  Just think about it, you look down at your device, your shoulders roll in and your eyes are focused on the cyber world.  What impression are you giving to those around you and how is your body position influencing your brain.

Photo Credit: FotoGrazio via Compfight cc

Check out Amy Cuddy’s Ted Talk on how your body language shapes who you are.  How you position your body affects the hormones released in your body.  So maybe think twice before you pull out that cell phone at your next gathering.

One of my favourite parts of my online graduate classes is learning from the stories of my fellow students and each week I’m amazed at how much I learn from everyone’s perspectives.  Life truly is about perspective.  This week Nicole’s post the Pursuit of Health in a Modern World, resonated with me.  Our health is dependent upon the choices that we make and the practices that we as teachers and parents model for our children. It’s about choosing to actively find balance.  I appreciate Nicole’s description of life with a conscious decision to choose when tech adds value.  She shared…

We haul our kids outside about 360 days a year. We crush books, and we cook, and we break toys and make rather large messes and spend a lot of face to face time with them because we find that when technology isn’t in the moment, we do actually have lot of time to be face to face. – Nicole

And so as my daughter fell asleep watching Netflix on the couch while I worked on this post I understand first hand the challenges and advantages of parenting in our device connected world.  While I know life is about consciously making healthy choices, it doesn’t mean that it’s easy.  We are surrounded by technology that has the potential to heal or harm depending how we use it.  What I hope you take from this post is an awareness of how technology influences our health and as Oprah shared (in the video below) it’s about asking ourselves, “What’s the next right move?”  and then the next right move.  Find your balance and enjoy the journey along the way:)


Interesting Articles I encountered while writing this blog post:

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