Understanding how your brain works to help or hinder the collaborative process is fundamental to any successful co-creative meeting or discussion. Recent scientific discoveries give us clues about how to access collaborative thinking. You can use this information to better understand how to create the conditions that will maximize access to higher brain abilities and minimize the chances of an amygdala "fight or flight" takeover. What's the difference?
Collaborative activities require the use of your prefrontal cortex (PFC), the part of your brain that distinguishes humans from all other animals. The PFC is located on the very top of your brain, positioned just behind your forehead, and is the part of your brain responsible for choice, foresight, and emotional balance.
Another part of the brain known as the amygdala, associated with your primitive brain, can have a negative effect on your ability to think and act collaboratively. The amygdala acts like a switching station, constantly evaluating incoming signals and triggering protective reactions to real or imagined threats. Many of us think of this as the "fight or flight" response, when we perceive real or imagined danger.
View from the Amygdala
- Tells us if we are safe or not
- Automatically triggers survival thinking and behaviors
- Alters your behavior to protect you and look out for your own interests
- Focuses on self-preservation, saying and doing things without thinking about the effect on others
- Triggers blame, judgment, defensiveness, hostility
- Uses information to calculate and analyze
- Protects your current "safe" position
- Triggers automatic "fight or flight" responses
View from the Prefrontal Cortex (PFC)
- Sees the whole picture
- Makes possible a wide variety of thinking, feeling, and behavior options
- Makes choices to balance what you want with what others want
- Notices and cares about the impact of your behavior on others
- Opens you to empathy and compassion
- Helps you tune into your intuition and insight
- Helps your ability to imagine a different future
- Monitors your fearful thoughts and helps maintain emotion balance.
It is important to create an environment for your collaborative conversation or meeting that has people feel at ease and comfortable. When people feel safe, they are more likely to access modes of thinking that support and encourage collaboration.
- Welcome everyone warmly as they arrive. This sends a message that they are important and helps put them at ease. Provide name tags.
- Have signs posted and clear information available as people arrive to help them get oriented. Have background information available as handouts. It's important that everyone have access to all the information.
- The more people can see each other's faces, the better. This will help build connection, trust and camaraderie. Minimize barriers between people, including tables.
- Make sure everyone can hear what is being said.
- Oxygen and temperature in the room are very important. Watch for signs of sleepiness or closed body posture and adjust the temperature as often as you need to. A room that is a bit on the cool side is better than one too warm.
- Sharing food together is a wonderful way to build bridges and create connections. Always have water available, even for short meetings as well as a variety of snacks that includes protein (cheese or nuts), carbohydrates (bagels, pretzels or crackers), and sugar (fruit juice, whole fruit, or chocolate).
In Successful Collaboration and Our Brain – What Do We Need to Know? Part 2 there are troubleshooting techniques to recover from "fight or flight" situations in collaboration conversations and meetings.