At the start of my career I remember how I anticipated reading the feedback forms at the end of a course or session and for every five positive statements or remarks it only took one negative one to make me instantly forget all the positive input I just received.
Why does this happen?
Research shows that our neurochemistry has a big role to play in this. When we face any form of rejection, fear or criticism our bodies produce a higher level of cortisol, a hormone that shuts down the thinking center of our brains and activates conflict aversion and protection behaviors. We become more reactive and sensitive. We often perceive even greater judgment and negativity than actually exists. Interestingly, these effects can last for 26 hours or more, impressing the interaction on our memories and increasing the impact it has on our future behavior. You see Cortisol functions like a slow-release tablet – the more we ruminate about our fear, the longer the impact.
So what about the positive conversations?
Well they produce a chemical reaction too. They produce oxytocin, a feel-good hormone that elevates our ability to communicate, collaborate and trust others by activating networks in our prefrontal cortex. But oxytocin metabolizes far more quickly than cortisol, so its effects are less dramatic and long lasting.
Conversational intelligence is about our ability to frame conversations in such a way that we experience the beneficial effects of a positive conversation despite the conversation being very difficult or negative. We have the ability to make this choice, the benefits of which will not only be a healthier mindset, but an increased ability to navigate conversations well, influence those around you, build trust with others, understand the point of views of others and overall generate a higher level of rapport with those you engage with.
Here are some tips to start the journey toward conversational intelligence take from Judith Glaser’s book on Conversational Intelligence:
Listen to Connect, Not Reject: This allows for non-judgmental listening, which increases the bonding hormone of oxytocin.
Ask questions for which you have no answers: When we ask questions that leave room for discovery from both sides it increases oxytocin and allows for a co-creating and open mindset.
Prime for Trust: Taking time to get to know people and building rapport strengthens the trust between parties and allows authentic sharing.
Sustain Conversational Agility: When you see a reaction you don’t intend or want to create, say – ‘let me reframe that another way.’ This gives you and the other person a chance to reset you minds and be open to another way to interpret what is going on.
You can read more about this topic in Judiths book, Conversational Intelligence which can be purchased here.