The Neuroscience of Influence
The scientific name for this phenomenon is interpersonal neurobiology, and has been developed by Dan Siegal, M.D. and Allan Schore, M.D. Basically, this perspective takes the latest brain research on neuroplasticity (the fact that the brain is continually rewiring itself) to help us understand how we impact others. This can be important for those of us who are wanting to be as influential with others as possible.
In other words, whether you are a parent, supervisor, teacher, manager, leader of an organization, or just someone who wants to have as much influence in your life and the lives of others as possible, understanding how interpersonal neurobiology works will be critical to your success.
For those of you who follow my “Life from the Top of the Mind” philosophy, you know that all of this starts with a part of the brain called the limbic system. This middle brain acts as a gatekeeper, or in today’s terminology, it acts as a scanner, a processor, and a router. It scans incoming data and interprets it as either positive, neutral, or negative, and then routes it either down to the brainstem or up to the neocortex. Further, given that the prime directive of this part of the brain has been to keep us alive and safe as a specie, it tends to pay more attention to negative input than positive, and, thus, tends to engage the lower 20% of the brain.
This means that if we are interacting with someone and they sense our disapproval, resentment, anger, or defensiveness, their middle brain will interpret this as a threat and will throw them into the lower brain (the brainstem), where they will respond with either a fight-or-flight response. Fight would have them becoming angry, defensive, and more resistant to what we are saying, and flight would have them withdrawing or feeling overwhelmed and intimidated. Unfortunately, either would result in their negating, or, at least, not hearing nor understanding what you are wanting them to know.
The solution, therefore, is for us to do all we can to have their limbic system interpret what we are doing and saying as positive, which will appeal to their neocortex, the upper 80% of the brain. To do this, we must be able to frame what we want them to know in a way that they will hear as valuable and to do this, we must know what is important to them and/or what they are worried or concerned about.
This is why listening and knowing as much as possible about the person or group that you are wanting to influence is so important. It’s not just what we are saying that will determine whether they hear and understand our perspective, it’s how their brain is likely to interpret our behavior.
One way to think of this is imagine that you are going to Italy to have an important conversation with someone who doesn’t speak English. If you could shift from English to Italian, you would do so without a second thought because you wanted to maximize the potential that you are being heard and understood. It’s the same way when we are interacting with others. Unfortunately, because we think that we are both speaking the same language, often we don’t take into account how we need to frame what we say to have the maximum impact. Instead we just say what we are thinking and then get upset when they don’t “get it.”
Therefore, to ensure that we are as influential with others as possible, I suggest that we take the science behind interpersonal neurobiology into account, and become more purposeful in communicating in a way that their limbic system will send what we are saying to the solution-focused part of their brain.
This is one of the things I teach in my seminars and coaching sessions, and is a big part of my “Life from the Top of the Mind” philosophy. We have to be coming from the clear, confident, creative brain (the neocortex, what I call the “Top of the Mind”), in order to engage others in a way that their brains interpret as valuable. If you feel that those in your organization and/or family would benefit from this knowledge and set of skills, I suggest you contact me, because, until we understand the importance of interpersonal neurobiology in how we engage others, we run the risk of driving others deeper into their resistant brains, and increasing the odds that they will reject anything we are saying.
~ All the best, Dr. Bill