Diversity and Chemical Conversations


By Jody Kennett

As a leader or colleague working with a diverse group of people, do you know what chemicals your conversations are producing?

Yes, every interaction you have with someone in your company is producing a cocktail of chemicals. The neuroscience of communication has proven that our daily conversations create chemical reactions in others releasing oxytocin, the trust hormone, or cortisol and adrenaline, the stress hormones. Conversational Intelligence©, C-IQ, is a vast body of knowledge and trainings based on over 35 years of research that is giving us incredible tools to communicate at a much higher level of connection, especially with diversity.

How Does a Conversation Produce Chemicals?
Neuroscience research has shown that the specific ways in which we communicate, including the questions we use, how we deliver information, and where we conduct our conversations from the standpoint of ‘I’ or ‘We’, hugely impact the chemical responses we create in others. For example, all of the following demonstrate what would increase cortisol and adrenaline, the stress response, when they occur in communication:

  • Judge
  • Exclude
  • Criticize
  • Limit
  • Withhold
  • Know
  • Dictate

The reason these are so detrimental is that when cortisol is released, it shuts off the prefrontal cortex of our brains where all the higher executive functions, including empathy, are stimulated.  When this shuts off, it then activates our primitive brain where the fight, flight, flee or appease response happens. Diversity needs our executive brains and we can create conversations to facilitate its activation.

The Importance of ‘I’ and ‘We’ in Communication for Diversity
In the Conversational Dashboard™ developed by Judith E. Glaser, the founder of C-IQ, she demonstrates how the positions of ‘I’ or ‘We’ approaches in communication impact the chemistry of our brains. The people who are working or leading from an ‘I’ stance are in protection where there is low trust. An ‘I-centric’ positioning tells or asks and therefore operates very much from a place of transactional conversations.  Employees and managers who operate from a ‘We-Centric’ position share and discover, creating partnering and high trust with transformational conversations.

When there is trust and partnering in conversations, this produces oxytocin which stimulates the prefrontal cortex of our brains where all our higher executive brain functions occur. This is important for companies and leaders because when we activate the prefrontal cortex with trust in communication, it is where innovation, vision, strategy, decision making and many executive functions of our brain take place. Trust accesses empathy in our brain which we need for diversity. We cannot access these executive functions of our brain in low trust relationships or conditions.

In an environment with diversity, it is common to have more ‘I’ positioning where people are in protection unless the culture and communication in the company are creating relationships with conversations of trust. Instead of allowing the differences in diversity to push people farther apart and into protecting themselves, neuroscience and C-IQ gives us the tools to create ‘We-Centric’ partnering conversations to strengthen diversity.

Cultivating a Strength in Diversity Culture with C-IQ
Diversity is a strength to be leveraged. Yet the problem remains of how to remove the fear, protection, and resistance of the people in your organization or team so that diversity and your people can thrive. According to Glaser:

“To get to the next level of greatness depends on the quality of our culture, which depends on the quality of our relationships, which depends on the quality of our conversations…everything happens through conversation!”

The neuroscience of communication proves we can increase trust with our conversations while simultaneously decreasing protection by learning and implementing C-IQ.  The first step in creating a culture strengthened by diversity is to train the leadership team or a specific team in Conversational Intelligence so they become aware of how they are communicating and the culture they are creating with their conversations.

Level of Conversation
We all drift through the three levels of conversation depending on many factors, but the awareness of the impact of each level is where the power of transforming conversations comes in to play.

  • Level I Conversation is only concerned with the exchange of information and therefore is purely transactional and ‘I’ centric.
  • Level II Conversations are positional where they advocate and inquire from a persuade and influence others stance
  • Level III Conversations share and discover what we do not know for co-creation and produce transformation activating the prefrontal cortex

Level III Conversations build bridges of trust to strengthen diversity and activates the collaboration of our executive brains for superior team performance. Your conversations create chemicals. Diversity needs trust. Trust starts with you and conversations.

Jody Kennett is presenting Diversity in Teams – The Neuroscience of Communication at the HR Evolves – The Future of Work symposium in Victoria on October 27. For more information on this and other professional development opportunities, please visit cphrbc.ca.

Jody Kennett is a communications specialist, C-IQ Enhanced Practitioner and an international leadership, diversity, and business growth consultant. She is the founder of Elevare where her mission is to elevate communication and leadership to the next level of performance, progressive evolution, and results.

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