My grandfather used to say, “To walk a mile in another man’s moccasins is to know his day. Until then, do not judge.” Never has this seemed more relevant than in reflection (no pun intended) of how our mirror neurons work in regards to our culture on a macro scale and in every interaction I have, every day, every moment. It’s so ingrained we aren’t even aware of it and yet so much of our actions and our reactions are based on the intuitive understanding of what others around us are saying, thinking, feeling, hearing, and responding to based on how they look and our interpretation of it. WOW!
I don’t know about you but I have heard about mirroring many times over the years. I first heard about the idea in the very beginning of the 21st-century and it was described to me as a tool for getting people to feel comfortable and to sell to them better due to their comfort in sameness through mimicry. It was in regards to body language and mirroring what the receiver was doing. Over the years I have found this technic very helpful. What I didn’t know was that it was just scratching the surface of the very new science based on mirror neurons.
It all started with researchers in Parva, Italy, led by Giacomo Rizzolatti, through their 1999 research on monkeys (and later humans,) that our brain has unique neurons called mirror neurons. In this very interesting TED Talk given by neuroscientist Vilayanur Ramachandran, he outlines the fascinating functions of mirror neurons. These neurons allow us to learn complex social behaviors, some of which formed the foundations of human civilization as we know it! They give us a view into what others feel, think, and intend. When we listen deeply, turn off our judgment mechanisms, and allow ourselves to connect with others, we are activating the mirror neuron system consciously. The common language for this act, conscious or not, is ‘having empathy for others.’
When we are fearful, that power, the power to connect becomes disconnected, and our sensitivity to others’ perspectives recedes. The Limbic brain takes over and our prefrontal cortex (aka: The Executive Brain) takes a back seat, watching and not driving our responses.
Because we each learn in our own unique way, for a different conversation on the same subject, here’s an excellent article from the New York Times titled “Cells That Read Minds”.
In case you’re looking to improve your skills at staying tuned it to your environment and team the answer is almost always going to be intentionally engage your brain in Level III conversational techniques. Don’t react, but instead start asking Level III discovery questions: Intentionally force processing in your brain from your reactive amygdala to your prefrontal cortex. For example, “Help me understand your perspective?” And start doing some Level III sharing. For example, if you are feeling anxious, say so, “I am feeing anxious about blah, blah, blah
Brain scientists tell us that the fastest way to start building trust and connection is via Level III Transparency, which tells people, ‘we are a friend, not a foe.’
So recognize that if, for example, you go to tell to sell to yell, you are generating cortisol in someone’s brain, and vice-versa, that will disintegrate empathy and generate distrust. And if you are trying to bowl over another person by proving you are right, you will generate cortisol in them, and that also will disintegrate empathy and build distrust.