Three Chemistry Lessons that Signal You’re a Friend or Foe

by Judith E. Glaser

Remember these three chemistry lessons when you’re communicating:

1. Be mindful of your conversations and the emotional content you bring—either pain – which closes the brain, or pleasure which opens the brain. Are you sending friend or foe messages? Are you sending the message “You can trust me to have your best interest at heart” or “I want to persuade you to think about things my way?” When you’re aware of these meta-messages, you create a safe culture that allows all parties to interact collaboratively, sharing perspectives, feelings, and aspirations and elevating insights and wisdom.

2. Conversations trigger emotional reactions. Conversations carry meaning—and meaning is embedded in the listener even more than in the speaker. Words cause us either to bond and trust more fully, thinking of others as friends and colleagues, or to break rapport and think of others as enemies. Your mind will open as you see the connection between language and health, and you’ll learn how to create healthy organizations through your conversational rituals.

3. Note that the words we use in our conversations are rarely neutral. Words have histories informed by years of use. Each time a new experience overlays another meaning on a word, the information all gets collected in our brains to be activated during conversations. Knowing how you project meaning into your conversations will enable you to connect with others and, in so doing, let go of much of the self-talk that diverts you from working together effectively.

The Chemistry Factor in Workplace Relationships

Management Feedback that Works

Judith E. Glaser is CEO of Benchmark Communications, Inc., Chairman of The Creating WE Institute, an Organizational Anthropologist, consultant to Fortune 500 Companies, and author of four best selling business books, including Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results (Bibliomotion). Call 212-307-4386, visit;;

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A Visual on What Works with Management Feedback

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.

management feedbackThree 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.

Next: Three Chemistry Lessons that Signal You’re a Friend or Foe

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 or call 212-307-4386.

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The Chemistry Factor in Relationships

By Judith E. Glaser

We are all familiar with the ‘chemistry’ factor in relationships and the chemical attraction metaphor.  However, we are now learning that our insights about the chemical nature of relationships and conversations are more than a metaphor—they are a reality!

For many decades, I’ve been intrigued by the chemical impacts—both positive andDifficult conversations negative—that conversations have on us. I married a biochemist and for decades we’ve shared lots of conversations about our work. When we first wrote about the “Neurochemistry of Positive Conversations” for Harvard Business Review and Psychology Today, we received confirmation that we were on to something important.

Positive comments and positive conversations provide a chemical “high,” and yet negative ones stick with us much longer. A critique from a boss, a disagreement with a colleague, or a fight with a friend can make you forget praise. If you are called lazy, careless or unprofessional, you are likely to remember it and internalize it, making it not very easy to forget, and discounting all the times people say you’re talented.

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Feedback versus the Dreaded Annual Review

by Judith E. Glaser

One hundred years ago, Thomas Watson founded IBM on business beliefs. In 2001, IBM revisited those beliefs with an astounding global process called a Values Jam*,  which engaged hundreds of thousands of people in an online conversation. At the time, many of us thought that would be impossible.IBM conversations

Fast-forward to today. Imagine a company as large as IBM becoming incredibly agile and sensitive to the changing needs of business, including fast-moving trends in artificial intelligence, cloud computing and cyber-security. Imagine that an organization this big could become incredibly responsive and efficient. With its DNA so bound to the customer from its very beginning, the company’s leadership has taken on one of its largest transformations ever, yet did so while preserving what makes it IBM.

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When to Begin Anew

“If things are not failing, you are not innovating enough.” –Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX and Tesla Motors

“Bad shit is coming. It always is in a startup. The odds of getting from launch to liquidity without some kind of disaster happening are one in a thousand. So don’t get demoralized.”  –Paul Graham, co-founder of Y Combinator

Whether you’re launching a new company or new product line, there are times when you want to call it quits.

But, should you?

Are you giving up too quickly on a good idea?

Will you regret it when your competitor sticks it out and wins?

Craig Forman, an entrepreneur and investor in NextNews Ventures in San Francisco, asked a panel of entrepreneurs at a recent ReCode conference what they look for when they decide throw in the towel. The panelists were: former General Magic executive Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet character in the movie “Steve Jobs”), former Aereo CEO Chet Kanojia and Y Combinator partner Dalton Caldwell talked with Recode’s Peter Kafka). Listen closely. These guys and gals had to call it quits on their ventures and lived to tell about it:

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How to Get Your Employees Addicted to Performing Well

The Neurochemistry of Motivation

By Judith E. Glaser

Employee Question: I work better in environments when my superiors are supportive and give praise for a job well done, and are also understanding when things go wrong. I wonder, is there any evidence that bosses get better work out of their employees when they encourage them rather than ignoring them or instilling fear?neuro chemistry of employee motivation

Through advances in neuroscience, we are now able to see inside of the brains and minds of people while they are experiencing different emotions. What astounds scientists and practitioners alike is the dramatically different ‘brain landscape’ for people who are in fear states, compared to those who are in states of joy and happiness.

What this surprising difference in our brain’s activity is showing us is so profound that it is changing the very foundation for how leaders lead.

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Five Steps to Create Cultures of Trust

by Judith E. Glaser

We are designed for connection with others, and when trust is broken we recoil and close down. Conversational Intelligence is teaching us that because we are designed to be social, our brains are sensitive to the signals of trust and distrust. When you use the TRUST Model effectively, you are sending signals of trust to others, and they will pick up these signals as you openly engage.engagement to create trust

Step 1: Transparency. Be open and transparent about what’s on your mind. Transparency quells the reptilian or primitive brain, which reacts to fear, threat, and loss. When we create conditions favorable for trust, people begin to talk openly about their threats and fears. We start reconnecting with others. Transparency is also about sharing our intentions so people don’t read into them. So, talk about the doubts and fears that stand in the way of building trust. Communicate openly with others to quell threats. This sends messages of trust that the amygdala understands: “I trust you will not harm me.”

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Is Distrust And Fear Rampant in Corporate America?

by Judith E. Glaser

Daily we see headlines that suggest we are becoming mired in distrust, at high cost to our organizations. As our trust bank accounts are depleted, we run out of currency to invest in the future. And trust is not a currency we can easily print to offset the deficit.Difficult conversations

Sadly, it seems that smog of distrust is settling over our cities. Bill O’Reilly opines: “There has been a drastic climate change in America, but it has nothing to do with the temperature.  There is a climate of distrust in our leaders.”

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Successful Failures: When We Want to Succeed but Can’t

by Craig Forman

We all want to succeed. So, one of the trickiest decisions in business is knowing when to ‘pull the plug’ on a failing initiative. With so much at stake (employee careers, investor expectations, client needs – to name a few), it’s human nature in high-achievers to ‘keep going,’ even beyond the moment when the data and evidence points to the end.

So, how do you know when to simply call it quits? At Vox Media’s Recode Conference this week, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos provided his insight. “Most companies quit too soon,” he said. “I want to keep going until the last ‘high-judgment champion’ folds his cards.” Sometimes, he himself is the sole remaining ‘true believer’ he added. In my book, ‘Be Luckier in Life,’ Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz discussed his conviction that some people ‘simply give up too soon,’ a sentiment shared by Amazon’s Bezos. Watch the video starting at 59:25.

A case in point: Amazon’s unsuccessful foray into mobile phones — an initiative he has called a ‘successful failure’ because the initiative, while unsuccessful, has reaped big benefits in such other businesses as the Kindle and the Alexa/Echo home ‘intelligent agent’ service.

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Five Ways to Have a Difficult Conversation That Leads to Action

by Judith E. Glaser

Hiding behind email, texting or “sandwiching” tough feedback between compliments, won’t get your communication heard. Neither will “yell and tell!”Choosing friends at work

Here are five ways to have those dreaded conversations that addresses fears, concerns and worries:

  • Triggering: ‘Feared Implications’

Very often just the thought of having a difficult conversation causes anxiety and fear. Our minds quickly create a movie of what might happen, and our minds are quick to imagine the worst. I call this ‘feared implications.’ Feared implications are the worst-case scenarios, and when our minds imagine the worst, the neurochemistry of fear takes over. The clinical name for this is Amygdala Hijack, named after the part of the brain, which is the seat of fear.

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