07 Oct 2019

The Neurochemistry Behind Positive Conversations.

The Neurochemistry Behind Positive Conversations.

Conversation – it’s something we all do, every day, often without much conscious effort. However, in a professional context, the way we approach conversations with colleagues can have a significant impact on how individuals and teams perform within an organisation.

Research has shown that focussing on creating positive interactions has a range of powerful benefits, including:

  • Fostering creativity and empowering colleagues to present new ideas and thinking;
  • Encouraging colleagues to generate solutions to challenges they face at work, rather than approaching their manager for the answer;
  • Developing an appetite for learning and development within organisations; and
  • Ensuring individuals and teams feel supported and motivated to take action.

So, how can leaders create more positive interactions? 

Well let’s start with the science behind them.

Developing capable and agile teams within your organisation requires individuals who are curious, eager to problem-solve and confident to present new ideas. 

To encourage this mindset, leaders should aim for interactions that produce dopamine and oxytocin. Often referred to as the ‘love hormone’, oxytocin promotes feelings of bonding and wellbeing. Interactions that boost oxytocin levels will ultimately encourage an environment where individuals feel more engaged, supported and able to go out on a limb by offering new thinking and creative solutions. Dopamine is associated with reward and is elevated by novelty and interest.

On the other hand, negative conversational behaviour encourages the release of cortisol – the ‘stress hormone’. Unsurprisingly, conversations that produce a ‘stress’ response in the brain don’t support the development of confident and agile leaders. In fact, some studies have shown significant and prolonged cortisol levels can even affect cognitive development.

What do positive interactions look like?

In ‘The Neurochemistry of Positive Conversations’, Judith and Richard Glaser differentiate between positive (oxytocin-producing) and negative (cortisol-producing) interactions. 

While negative (cortisol-producing) conversation behaviours include the pretence of listening, lack of trust for others’ intentions and a focus on convincing others, positive (oxytocin-producing) behaviours include:

  • Exhibiting concern for others
  • Being truthful about what’s on your mind
  • Encouraging discussion and curiosity 
  • Painting a picture of mutual success
  • Being open to difficult conversations 

Weaving positive conversational behaviours into your leadership style

Focussing on positive interactions is a central characteristic of a coaching approach to leadership. By coaching rather than directing, leaders are able to nurture agile thinking within their teams and support individuals as they develop themselves.