The heart brain in action
We now know that the heart has its own ‘brain’. This brain comprises nodes in the heart that give us access to what’s going on in the chemistry of our body. You could say the Heart Brain acts like a car that has the ability to read its oil, petrol and water levels with great sensitivity, accuracy and speed. For us, rather than oil and petrol, the Heart Brain is especially sensitive to the chemistry of cortisol – the stress hormone, and oxytocin – the bonding hormone. Oxytocin reduces anxiety, increases our social confidence and feels like we are in resonance with others.
How does this apply to leaders?
The Heart Brain is our indicator of the internal chemical balance between what opens and what closes our brain, and therefore what determines the quality of our thinking. As the brain translates the chemical messages coming from the heart it either opens or closes in response. When it opens we can access our Executive Brain and the enourmous power of connection with others. This is where our most advanced and developed thinking is generated. When the brain closes we are set up to defend and attack. We get ‘addicted to being right’ – an addiction that shuts down intelligent conversation instantly.
Conversationally intelligent leaders know how to craft conversations that make themselves and their people smarter. When we feel people listen to us and respect us without judgement, each of us becomes smarter. Feel-good oxytocin is generated which opens the brain. This opening ignites the connection between the Heart and Executive Brains. However, when we’re fearful that we’re being judged, our lower brain owns us. It spews out cortisol and closes down access to our most effective thinking.
Mixing the cocktail
Our mindset is the foundation for our conversations, it’s the glass we serve the cocktail in. Because what is in my brain is different from what’s in yours, we all see the world differently – we have reality gaps. Reality gaps create our ‘default’ mindset which is to defend our point of view, causing uncertainty in others. And uncertainty destabilises the brain. If we don’t shift this mindset it’s like serving our cocktail in a dirty glass. This matters because we can create or shift the other person’s state by our words and how we use them. Leaders can learn to consciously add feel-good, opening and trusting ‘mixers’ into their conversation, and reap the benefits of doing so. That’s the cocktail all leaders need to know how to serve. And it’s the drink of choice for all transformational change.