We Humans Are Social Beings - And Why That Matters For Speakers and Leaders
We humans are social beings; we share mirror neurons that allow us to match each other’s emotions unconsciously and immediately. We leak emotions to each other. We anticipate and mirror each other’s movements when we’re in sympathy or agreement with one another—when we’re on the same side.
And we can mirror each other’s brain activity when we’re engaged in storytelling and listening – both halves of the communication conundrum.
This view of the human state is directly contrary to the way most people think about communications. The old model has a sender, a message, a receiver, feedback and noise. It’s far too mechanistic and simple to describe adequately what’s really going on. It leaves out the communal nature of communications.
We want to achieve this state of human communion; it’s a mistake to think that most humans prefer the solitary life that so much of modern life imposes on us. We are most comfortable when we’re connected, sharing strong emotions and stories, and led by a strong, charismatic leader who is keeping us safe and together.
Of course, that can have a dark side. When the leader is unprincipled or lacks integrity, bad things can happen. But that’s hardly news. A quick review of any period of human history will demonstrate that sad truth
If you want to lead groups of people to achieve – on the positive side of the equation – more than any individual can achieve alone, this is how you do it. You develop a sense of how you inhabit space and modify that to fulfill the role you want to inhabit. You focus and control your emotions for key conversations, meetings, negotiations, and presentations.
You harness the power of your unconscious mind to read other people reliably and quickly. You develop the leadership power of your voice, and you strengthen the nonverbal leadership signals you send out in important moments and situations.
And you tap into the power of your unconscious mind to create a positive sense of what’s possible for you, tuning yourself up to be ready to lead.
All of that work prepares you to put your vision across to people in powerful, persuasive ways. Then, finally, you learn how to be a storyteller who taps into the deep stories of human history and mythology to bring your message into being
You can control the human interaction if you’re intentional about your communications in this way. You think about what you want to say. You think about the emotions you want to project. And you bridge the undeniable differences among humans by the clarity of your story and the depth and focus of your emotions.
That’s what holds your listener. If you show up half-present, conflicted, nervous, distracted, or with something else on your mind, you won’t hold the attention of your listener.
But if you know what you’re doing, you can take charge of your listener’s brain and get it to match yours. That’s how the magic of persuasion works. Our brains commune. We jump the human divide. We share the same emotions and the same message.
And there’s a final irony. If you, as the leader, are not willing to listen to your listeners, you will eventually drive them away. Communication can’t just flow in one direction. It is always two way.
In good company: Why we need other people to be happy
For a lot of people, 2017 meant trying times. And divisiveness. We fought with politicians, neighbors, family, friends, the media, men and strangers we’ve never even met, thanks to social media. It’s been enough to make one want to try their luck on a desert island — anywhere without WiFi.
Our hope for 2018? Perhaps it’s remembering that as much as the people around us can drive us up the wall, no man is an island. It takes all types to make the world go ‘round. And people are meant to be around other people (even those we don’t always agree with).
“Human beings are an ultra-social species — and our nervous systems expect to have others around us,” Emiliana Simon-Thomas, PhD, Science Director of the Greater Good Science Center at The University of California, Berkeley, tells NBC News BETTER. In short, according to biology, neuroscience, psychology, and more, our bodies actually tend to work better when we’re around not alone.
Being lonely has been linked to worse physical and emotional health outcomes and poorer wellbeing. Plus, a lack of social support can directly affects our potential for experiencing happiness, explains Simon-Thomas, who studies the biology of our emotions and thinking. “We’re built to really seek social companionship and understanding.”
Here are all the reasons why:
1. Being around other people makes us healthier.
Physiologically, not having a social support system is actually a source of chronic stress for our bodies, Simon-Thomas explains. Studies show that when people feel lonelier they have higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
And that type of chronic stress raises risk of cardiovascular disease and other challenges to health and wellness, Simon-Thomas adds. Conversely relationships can encourage behaviors that are good for us, too (like eating right and exercising).
So it makes sense that studies show having fewer social ties is associated with more heart disease, cancer, and impaired immune function, as well as with worse recovery when it comes to those health problems.
Research dating back to the 1970s suggests people with weaker social networks actually die younger (due to any cause) than people who have more extensive social networks. A more recent review of 148 studies concluded that on average having stronger social ties increased likelihood of an individual’s overall survival by as much as 50 percent.
2. Our brains seem to work better when we work together.
There’s a growing body of evidence that suggest our brains actually function better when we’re interacting with others and experiencing togetherness. That’s according to a 2015 review article published by a group of Finnish neuroscientists in the journal Neuron.“Social interaction is among the most complex functions humans (and their brains) perform. Yet, the interaction typically appears surprisingly easy,” the coauthors write in the paper.
Research shows, for example, that listening and participating in a two-person conversation is actually less mentally taxing for the brain than giving or listening to a monologue, even though what we understand about how we process language would suggest otherwise. Other studies show children learn better by interacting with other rather than observing.
3. Psychologically, we prefer to go through life not alone.
Psychology says that part of human nature’s default mode is to be social. One theory: people have an innate (and very powerful) need to belong. Some key arguments (published in the journal Psychological Bulletin in 1995) is evidence that shows most people make social ties under most conditions — and most people try to avoid breaking those ties if they can.
Another way to think about it is the social baseline theory, which suggests the human brain expects access to social relationships. That’s because those connections help lower potential risks one might face (think “safety in numbers”) and lessen the amount of effort needed when it comes to a variety of scenarios (if the objective is to build a shelter, there is literally less work for each individual if two people do it).
Experiments have shown that simply holding someone else’s hand lessens an individual’s emotional response in the brain to a perceived threat. (The effect was even greater if the person’s hand you were holding was a spouse.)
Another oft-cited experiment found that individuals actually perceived a hill to be steeper if they were standing at the bottom alone compared with when they stood at the bottom with a friend, Simon-Thomas notes.
“Just having another person there and present, who you trust and feel safe around makes the world look like a less challenging place,” Simon-Thomas.
4. When we’re around people who drive us crazy, we grow.
So what about the coworker who cannot stop preaching his political views? Or your friend’s best friend who you just cannot stand to be around? It’s good when relationships challenge us, says Simon-Thomas.
They can help us extend our status quo and how we see the world, she explains. “These ‘being driven crazy’ moments are truly well thought of as opportunities for growth and transformation, which can ultimately be a more poignant source of sustained happiness.”
That’s because having a diverse variety of emotional experiences — including feeling sad, angry, anxious, or irritated — expands our capacity to feel good, too, she explains. And it’s totally normal for our closest family and friends to be the ones who do that.
The exception is when a relationship’s negatives outshine its benefits. Be wary if a relationship encourages bad habits or causes distress, says Debra Umberson, PhD, Professor of Sociology and Director of the Population Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin.
“A bad relationship is worse than no relationship when it comes to health.”
DO IT BETTER: Being grateful for the people around us helps
Simon-Thomas’ advice for reaping the benefits of your social ties: Be grateful for your relationships (including those that challenge you).
Research shows people who are more grateful tend to be happier, tend to be more satisfied in their relationships, tend to be less vulnerable to various physical discomforts, tend to be more resilient when it comes to stress and trauma,
and are more well-like by others compared with people who are less grateful, she says. “Make a point of noticing who around you is contributing to the goodness in your life and actually express it by saying thank you.”
And remember, it’s okay to have some “you” time when you need it. We all need time to ourselves to rest, decompress and reflect on whatever’s going on in our lives, Simon-Thomas says. It recharges us for when it is time to face (and embrace) the rest of the world again
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