The science of emotions in our workplaces


I have a confession to make. I’m fascinated by neuroscience, by understanding how our brains work, particularly in conjunction with our bodies and our emotions. I’m also a huge believer that creating more connection – more emotional glue – in our workplaces is what builds higher performing companies. It makes them a lot more enjoyable to work in, but it also makes people care enough to want to excel.

I read an interesting article recently about the link between emotional connection and learning. It was specifically targeted to teachers and students, but I think the findings apply to our business cultures too.

We want our employees to be creative, to come up with great new ideas that improve our products or streamline the way we do things. And we want them to know the company mission and goals, to be able to speak to what differentiates us from our competitors and genuinely care about what we stand for as an organization.

It may sound simple, but part of ensuring that all of your employees are moving in the same strategic direction is making sure that they all know what that direction is. A great deal of the responsibility lies with leaders to make sure that they know what their purpose is, and that the goals of the company are simply, concisely articulated in a way that resonates with people.

But part of what makes your strategy sticky enough for your employees to really get it and act on it is making sure they absorb it on a deeply personal level. The researcher noted in the article above – Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, a professor at USC’s Rossier School of Education – has demonstrated the connection between emotion and learning.

Her research shows that we use the same neural network to make sense of our bodies as we do to feel our relationships, judgment, and creativity. Our creativity is driven by caring deeply about a subject, and we make meaning by connecting the new information we receive – like our company strategy or goals – to our feelings and memories. And, interestingly enough, we need to disconnect from external stimuli and focus internally in order to make that connection. So yes, daydreaming is good for you and your employees.

Are you presenting your strategy and goals in a way that inspires emotion, inspires connection? How can you give your employees enough space to make this connection, to let their neural network pull up a memory or an experience that makes what you’re telling them matter and stick?

Strategy shouldn’t be dry and complicated; it should resonate in our bones and make our hearts sing. We should truly care about what we’re trying to accomplish in our businesses, and feel a personal sense of purpose in doing so. When you are getting ready to share your annual targets or present that vision one more time, ask yourself if you are allowing enough space and enough emotional connection for it to really sink in with your employees.

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