>How does your brain work?


David Rock’s book ‘The Brain at Work’ shows how critical different brain functions are.It debunks one of the NLP tenets that we can hold up to seven pieces of information in our brain at one time (plus or minus two pieces of information.)

David shares research that says we can only hold four pieces of information in our brain at one time. We can only do a job really well by focusing on one thing at a time. So have multi-tasking women been getting it all wrong?

How many actors on your stage?

He describes the pre-frontal cortex where we hold and process information consciously, as a stage. He compares the information we receive to actors getting on and off the stage and describes how our brain has a ‘director’ that controls how we process the information. If too many actors get on the stage at once the ‘director’ gets overloaded and we get stressed.

So keeping our stage free of too many distractions is essential to get our brains to work most effectively. One suggestion is that when we get to work and open our emails first we are deluged with too many distracting actors that send us off in too many directions. The best way to be most effective is to focus on the one main priority first, and then review your emails when that task is completed.

Putting on a SCARF

When we feel threatened or unhappy David Rock explains that there are several social qualities that impact on our responses to threats, and he uses the mnemonic SCARF to describe them.

Status – where you feel you fit in the pecking order
Certainty – how certain you are about what is happening
Autonomy – how in control you feel at work
Relatedness – who connects with you on a human level?
Fairness – who treats you fairly?

This model seems to make particular sense when you consider what people experience and how people feel when going through change.

Fair’s fair

Rock then highlights another interesting piece of research about a human being’s intrinsic need for fairness.

Stephen Pinker in How the Mind Works thinks that the need for fairness derived from the need to trade efficiently in the past. “In the distant past, when you couldn’t store food in the refrigerator, the best place to store resources would have been by giving ‘favours’ to others. Resources were stored in others people’s brains, as potential reciprocal snacks down the road.”

This was especially important in hunter-gatherer days when food supply was intermittent. To be good at this kind of trading you needed to be able to detect ‘cheaters’, people who promise but don’t deliver. And so it became important to be able to detect fairness.

Fairness – a vital factor for engagement

So Rock says: “Workplaces that truly allow employees to experience an increasing perception of fairness might be intrinsically rewarding. Organisations trying to increase a sense of engagement could do well to recognise that people experiencing a sense of unfairness may get as upset as being told they won’t get to eat for a day.”

More research in the Harvard Business review around corporate restructuring found that when people understood that decisions were made fairly, the impact of the downsizing was dramatically less. If not and people feel they have been treated unfairly by an organisation there can be no end of complaints. This explains why communicating the reasons for decisions about change is so critical.

And isn’t it interesting how the coalition has been playing on our sense of fairness in their communication about the need for cuts…?

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