Primer: The Neuroscience of Distrust/ Trust in Conversation – Blame it on Your Brain!

Every word, phrase, interaction, or even silence can have a ripple effect for good, better, or worse….

What makes a conversation good? Not good? What creates trust? Distrust? Much of my work these past years has engaged others in these and other related questions — about their conversational, communications, and relationship efficacy.

I am trained as a Core Coach in Conversational Intelligence®. Be it in my coaching, workshops, writing – I refer a lot to the neurochemistry of conversations. This is at the heart of understanding some of influences that will impact our abilities to have healthier conversations.

Here is a short primer on what happens to your brain and subsequently your efficacy in communicating well in any given moment.

Conversations are more than words and exchanges of information. Each conversation has the potential to trigger a reaction – emotionally and in our neurochemistry – that can either shut down or open up our levels of trust; our ability to listen and hear; and our ability to connect. Conversations have the potential to build (or break) relationships, promote (or obstruct) understanding, foster (or impede) trust. Some of the derailers are invisible.

The Speed of (Dis)Trust:

It takes less than a second (about 0.7 seconds) for your brain to ‘decide’ if a situation is a friend or foe. In other words – to detect threat.

When we feel distrust, we fire up our ‘stress brain’  (the amygdala and limbic area) and quickly default into a protective stance both mentally and biologically. The brain elicits a neurochemical reaction (cortisol and catecholamine) which narrows our focus and perspective and triggers the fight or flight reaction. This diminishes our efficacy in critical, reflective thinking, communicating and relating.  Our empathy skills close down. The energy becomes an ‘I versus we’ dynamic.

The paradox is that just when we need the best of ourselves to navigate sensitive and complex moments with open minds, good thinking and collaborative ability, our brain primes for the opposite kind of response. We either shut down and hide or act out with unproductive, aggressive communications.

When this happens – we can say ‘bye bye’ to our executive thinking abilities and we put ourselves and potentially others at greater risk of spiraling down into conflict, more distrust — and communications and relationship breakdowns.

Conversely – How the “Trust Brain” Works:

The late Judith E. Glaser, author of “Conversational Intelligence” and trainer of hundreds of coaches around the world (myself included) used to say: “Trust and distrust reside in different addresses in our brain.”

What she meant was that while the distrust brain activities occur within the limbic area (amygdala, etc.), our prefrontal cortex (PFC)  is where trust resides. The PFC is sometimes referred to the “Higher Thinking brain”. If you touch your foreward, that is where it is.

When we experience a feeling of safety, connection, and trust, our higher thinking brain abilities (within the Pre-frontal cortex) light up and become accessible to us. We can see and think of more possibilities; we can access our ability to discern; to have empathy; to problem solve. We can bring more possibility to our thinking and conversations!

The chemicals at play here are many. Notably, when we are connecting with others we experience a surge of the connecting hormone (some call it ‘love’ hormone), Oxytocin.

Oxytocin expands our abilities for empathy, for connection, and for many of our social abilities related to collaboration, discerning, and more.

What Does This Mean For You?

Everyone has conversations. Everyone has a need to connect, relate, and navigate relationships and various opportunities and challenges in their life. Leaders especially — need to make sure that their leadership creates the right ripple effects so that they can inspire and foster trust, performance and better results in their teams.

Conversational Intelligence can teach us to be better. Learning more about what triggers distrust and trust is a good first step. Learning to mitigate the derailers and blindspots can make all the difference between triggering trust or distrust.

Every culture is built on relationships which is built on conversations.

There’s loads more to share. Here are a few more resources and articles you might find interesting. As well, if interested in exploring some training (workshops or webinars), presentations (talks: live or online),or coaching – please connect with me.  I would be happy to explore how I might be of service.

Read/Learn More:

Here’s to creating positive ripple effects!

Eileen Chadnick (@Chadnick) is a certified executive and leadership coach; a communications pro (20+ years of experience) and principal of Big Cheese Coaching and Chadnick Communications in Toronto. Eileen draws from the science of positivity, leadership, neuroscience, emotional intelligence – and Conversational Intelligence®(C‐IQ®) in her work as a coach, consultant, trusted advisor and facilitator. *Eileen Chadnick is trained in Conversational Intelligence® (C‐IQ®). C‐IQ is a Trademark by Benchmark Communications.

 

 

 

 

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