by Judith E. Glaser
This ‘chemistry of conversations’ is why we need to be more mindful of our interactions. Behaviors that increase cortisol levels reduce our conversational intelligence or C-IQ—our ability to connect and think innovatively, empathetically, creatively and strategically with others. Remember: behaviors that spark oxytocin boost C-IQ.
When we partnered with Qualtrics, the online survey software company, to analyze the frequency of negative (cortisol-producing) versus positive (oxytocin-producing) interactions, we found that managers appear to be using positive, oxytocin and C-IQ elevating behaviors more often than negative behaviors. Survey respondents said that they exhibited all five positive behaviors, such as ‘showing concern for others’ more frequently than all five negative ones, such as ‘pretending to be listening.’
However, about 85 percent of respondents also admitted to sometimes acting in ways that could derail not only specific interactions but also future relationships. And, when leaders exhibit both behaviors, they create dissonance or uncertainty in followers’ brains, spurring cortisol production and reducing C-IQ.
If you tend to tell and sell your ideas and challenge people to produce results, your negative (cortisol-producing) reactions could easily outweigh positive (oxytocin-producing) reactions. Instead of asking questions to stimulate discussion, showing concern for others and painting a compelling picture of shared success, you tend to enter discussions with a fixed opinion, determined to convince others you are right. You are not open to others’ influence—and you fail to listen to connect.
This graph is from our Creating WE Institute Research into the Chemistry of Conversations. Red bars = cortisol producing, Green bars = oxytocin producing. The highest red bar is “focusing on convincing others.” Not only is it done more often, its impact is 26 times that of the oxytocin producing behaviors—suggesting that this one act alone can cause a relationship or sales engagement to go south.
Three Chemistry Lessons
When managers and leaders learn about the chemical impacts of their behavior, they tend to make changes—for example, they learn to deliver difficult feedback in a way that is perceived as inclusive and supportive, thereby limiting cortisol production and stimulating oxytocin instead.
As we become mindful of the behaviors that open us up and those that close us down, and their influence in our relationships, we can better harness the chemistry of conversations. Mindfulness about our conversational impact enables us to get on the same page with others, strengthens our relationships – and expands our potential for higher levels of engagement and innovation. Without healthy conversations, we shrivel up and die.
Conversations are the source of energy that moves us out of our doldrums when we are sad, the power that launches transformational products, and the golden threads that enable us to trust others. But these threads can be fragile and also unravel, causing us to run from others in fear of loss and pain. Conversations are the way we connect, engage, navigate, and transform the world with others.
“The quality of our culture depends on the quality of our relationships, which depends on the quality of our conversations. Everything happens through conversations.” The most powerful ‘leadershift’ we can make is to realize that each person has the power to create the conversational space that creates deeper understanding and engagement, not fear and avoidance.
Judith E. Glaser is CEO of Benchmark Communications, Inc. and Chairman of The Creating WE Institute. She is an Organizational Anthropologist, and consults to Fortune 500 Companies. Judith is the author of Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results (Bibliomotion) Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 212-307-4386.