What world-class communicators do differently: 3 lessons from neuroscience

Dr. Goulston is a clinical psychiatrist. At one point he noticed that the same techniques he used to mend broken marriages and help suicidal patients worked just as well in other realms, realms like hostage negotiations and poisonous workplaces. When he sat down to think about it, he realized that despite the vastly different contexts in which they occurred, social violence, personal squabbles and workplace disputes have something in common: they are all about people trying to get through to one another in a stressful and highly emotional situation.

In his experience, such problems often get out of hand when we apply too much pressure at precisely the wrong time.

Something similar happens when we can’t get people to do what we want them to do. We push harder, we argue, we shout, or we swing the other way, pleasing, pleading, cajoling. In short, we upshift. And the other person responds with even more resistance, lashing out, becoming defensive, shutting us out.

A better way is to downshift, to stop talking and start listening so you can discern the emotions under the seemingly crazy behavior. When you shift your focus down to the root cause, to the raw emotion, you create traction that pulls the other person towards you. And that’s when you can get through to them.

Peering at your own grey matter, you’d notice that you have not one but three brains laid on top of one another. There’s the outer layer — the neocortex, which we usually think of as our brain. It’s the most recent, most evolved part that controls our higher-order functions, all that intellectual brilliance and impeccable manners we like to show to the world. But there are two other, much older parts wrapped around each other below the neocortex: the reptilian, or lizard brain which triggers our survival instincts and fear responses; and the mammalian brain, our emotional center, the seat of all feelings and moods, and also memory.

The upshot of this arrangement, Dr. Goulston says, is a kind of Jekyll and Hyde situation where one moment you are a perfectly reasonable human being and the next you’ve turned into “a cornered snake” or “a hysterical rabbit”. Because our neurology hasn’t caught up with modern times, our lizard brain sees potential threats everywhere and when it does, it flicks a switch that diverts resources away from our brain and into our limbs, to prepare us for fight or flight.

The best thing to do in this situation is to recognize that and to somehow move people form lizard or mammalian brain back to human brain it before you deliver your message.

Here are three ways to do exactly that.

1. Make the other person feel “felt”

It’s hardcoded into our DNA, this need to feel understood, or “felt”, by others. And when it’s not met, people act out. Rage, resistance, and even more mysterious afflictions like procrastination and underperformance at work are often just a way of saying “I’m having a hard time and nobody gives a damn.”

But faced with such situations, we often do precisely the wrong thing.

We tell the other person oh you are overreacting or stop acting like a drama queen or okay, let’s calm down here. And what’s the message we are sending? That we are not taking them seriously. That their problems are silly and don’t matter to us. And so to the other person we are just like everybody else. Why should they listen to us let alone do what we want them to?

The key, counterintuitively, is show that you empathize by acknowledging their negative emotions.

Here’s a classic technique adapted from hostage negotiations that shows how this can work in practice.

First, attach an emotion to what you think the other person is feeling, for example frustrated or angry or afraid.

Then, when you have a chance to talk in private, say: I’m trying to get a sense of what you’re feeling and I think it’s frustration (or anger or fear).

Or say: I’ll bet you feel that there is no way you’re going to be able to do what I’m asking you to do, isn’t that true? Then wait for the person to agree or to correct you.

Keep doing this until you go over all of the emotions you think are playing out. For example, you can follow up with: And I’ll bet you’re hesitant to tell me straight out that you can’t get it done, isn’t that also true?

This does two things:

a) you show that you’ve put yourself in their shoes, and

b) you get them to say yes repeatedly, which creates a positive momentum, a cascade of yesses.

Then dig deeper. Ask them: How frustrated are you? Or: And the reason you’re so frustrated is because. . . ?

Then sit back and listen. Don’t interrupt. Even if you don’t like what comes out, even if it stretches the truth so much that you have to jump in and set the record straight, don’t.

Finally, ask the other person to suggest a solution. Here are three good questions to ask: Tell me — what needs to happen for that to get better?

United Airlines Says Corporate Clients Seek Customer-Policy Fixes

Recent passenger incident prompts call for airline “to do the right thing”

He also said crew members traveling as passengers much check in an hour before a flight’s departure time.

.. “It’s clear we have further to go to elevate our customer experience,” Mr. Munoz said, and declined to comment more specifically on those changes until the review is complete.

.. Backlash against United had been particularly intense in China, a key market for the carrier, after media there identified Dr. Dao as Chinese. He is Vietnamese-American. Mr. Munoz said he met with officials at the Chinese Consulate in Chicago and will visit China in a few weeks on a previously scheduled trip.