Doctor Lynda Shaw has already dedicated 25 years to Cognitive Neuroscience. As an association fellow of the British Psychological Society and member of the Royal Society of Medicine, she is a revered expert in neuroscience and psychology.
Today Lynda is a thriving business neuroscientist, having founded, and now operating two organisations, The Learning Lab and Fun Seekers. Dr Shaw has a personal passion for growing empathy in the workplace and believes it is imperative that companies be intentional about ridding their workplace environment of toxicity. Through her work, she strives to develop a culture of collaborative communication and innovation in the workplace.
Have you ever considered how neurochemicals in the brain impact each person and more specifically the impact they have on leadership? Only recently, the understanding of neuroscience has become a more prominent focus on business success. Lynda explains that our neurochemicals play a big role in our emotional reactions. For example, when there are high levels of dopamine secretion people will experience extreme inflations in their behaviour.
It is therefore critical that leaders are aware of how changing social norms can impact neurochemicals, understand what they can do to work through changes, and how they can better help their employees. In today’s ‘post’ pandemic world, leaders should keep this top of mind when reintegrating team members back into the workplace.
The impact of social norms
A common social norm that can be found inside of the workplace is that of toxic positivity. Toxic positivity is where people try to help boost morale by pointing out the bright side of a situation. However always being Mr or Ms Brightside often results in the person we are trying to comfort feeling as though their emotions don’t matter. Lynda explains that “it’s basically when people negate somebody else’s feelings and make them feel insignificant.”
How to work through this
To create cohesion within an organisation we need to find ways to provide comfort without succumbing to toxic positivity. Lynda states that there are a set of tools that can be used to help overcome this social norm, “listening, first of all, and not getting drawn in and allowing yourself to take a breath, just get quiet for a minute”. Taking the time to listen to our peers and understand what their needs are is a key step to creating a more cohesive environment for everyone.
In almost all businesses there is a common misconception that asking for help is considered a sign of weakness. For this reason, many people find themselves working alone and struggling in silence to get the job done. People do this to give the impression that their independence at work is a form of strength to the company. Working in silos, however, can hamper productivity across the board and so it is critical that leaders cultivate a work environment where team members don’t fear asking for help.
How to work better together
Lynda believes that asking for help is in fact the opposite of misconceived weakness and states “asking for help is not a weakness, it’s a strength.” She says that emotions are often labelled as positive or negative, and feeling hesitant or unsure are emotions that are almost immediately labelled as negative. The truth is that all emotions can be positive as they are all valuable to growth in some way. When leading a team, we should strive to encourage people to ask for assistance by reiterating the benefit for all and by doing so we will create further cohesion within our teams.
We are all human; we all have different background experience that influences our triggers. We are triggered by different things in every relationship and the workplace is no exception. For many, understanding what your triggers are can be a challenging process. How do you discover what your personal triggers are and when you do, what should you do to work through them?
Triggers develop through an unconscious process that is the result of past experiences. When we are triggered, we may feel overwhelmed and distressed because of a current situation. Instead of chastising an employee who was triggered during a confrontation, Lynda advises taking a step back and evaluating the situation. She explains that identifying triggers is the most challenging part of the process and they can be used for positive change. “These are habitual responses, habits are virtually not hardwired, they are soft wired, which means we can change them.”
How to work through triggers
As leaders when we are faced with an employee who has been triggered, helping them identify the common cause of the trigger, and helping them work through it will create a safe environment for them. Creating a psychologically safe space is beneficial for the team as they feel ‘seen’, as people and not merely resources to an organisation. As leaders face the challenge of reintegrating employees back into a face-to-face work environment, they should adopt a human first approach to ease fears and triggers for employees.
During lockdown every person experienced a large amount of uncertainty, and this has affected us both psychologically and physically. When we experience large amounts of uncertainty our cortisol levels increase drastically. Rising cortisol levels can cause several health problems including heart disease and high blood pressure. We are not yet in the ‘know’ of what lies ahead. As the year progresses it seems that we are all still faced with more uncertainty.
How should leaders face this uncertainty and how should they know or plan what the next step should be? During uncertain times we need to be aware of our employees, but we also need to check in with ourselves. Lynda suggests that “When you’re a leader, the first person you have to be compassionate with is yourself.” You need to find time to step back and spend that time doing what you enjoy. Those moments when you feel that you need to work harder than ever, are often the times when you really need to take a step back. You need to first show compassion to yourself to show compassion to others.
Over the past few years, we have been affected in more ways than many are even aware of, and now we need to prioritise our awareness of those around us, and ourselves too. We need to be aware of the psychological and physical impact the world has on us, and it is of utmost importance that we create a safe space for everyone at work. As leaders we need to be striving to make the work environment a place of cohesion, a place where we can ask questions and most importantly, a place where we can be compassionate towards each other.