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The Omniscient Managewich

I have a question for the sandwich generation of managers, middle managers or owner managers, stuck in the middle of competing priorities and agendas:

Why is it so hard to know what someone else really wants or believes, and yet, how is it that we know others’ intentions just by looking at their body language or actions?

Paradoxical, yes?

For those of you who are saying that you don’t judge people…. you do.  We all do.  In fact, there is a region of our brain called the  “RPTJ” that is dedicated to understanding what’s going on in other people’s minds and forms our thoughts about it.

Rebecca Saxe, a cognitive neuroscientist from MIT, talks about how this region develops.  (This is a really cool video, especially the experiment at the end.)

I’ve talked about the pitfalls of “mindreading” and its effect on communication and understanding many times on this blog.  Today we’re going to look at it from the opposite angle – the advantages.

Clearly, some people are better able to put themselves in other people’s shoes than others.  This is an advantage, especially in the area of belief systems or moral judgments.  Why?  We don’t all believe the same things, and ability to see how someone can believe something different than we do can help us achieve a better understanding and to grow ourselves.

For the absolutists out there, can we all agree that I am not talking about  murder, genocide or other like ills?

What does this mean for the managewich?

Sometimes people act because they have a different belief systems.  For instance, executive management has announced a private meeting for management in which they announce that a reduction in force is forthcoming, and it is to be kept from the employees at large.   Pollyanna, a director of IT, doesn’t believe that information that affects people’s livelihood and well-being should be kept from them.   Later that week, one of her managers asks her point blank whether their jobs are at risk.  While not disclosing the nature of the meeting with the executives, she does indicate that jobs are at risk.

Fast forward to Pollyanna’s meeting with her VP.

How might this go if Pollyanna’s VP shares her belief that the interests of the individuals working for the organization outweigh the obligations to the ownership?

What if he doesn’t share her belief, and he can see how she could believe this?

What if he doesn’t share her belief, and he can’t understand how she could possibly think that?

That last is where we get into trouble because in the extreme, we unknowingly create intractable, rigid environments in which there is no room for other opinions or divergent thought.  Ever worked with that guy?  How fun is that?

There’s good news and bad news.  The good news is that we’ve identified that the more developed this “RPTJ” area of the brain is, the more likely it is that people can be more open minded regarding moral judgments and belief systems.  The bad news is that this is a relatively new area of neuroscience, and so far the one way we do know how to make that part of the brain more active is to magnetically stimulate it.

You’re not going to “shock the boss.”

Here’s a prediction…. my educated guess is that the physiology of this part of the brain can be changed through awareness and focus, much like other parts of the brain.   This is how coaching creates lasting change.

Be Your Best You Today,

Carolann Jacobs

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