Amygdala Hijacks – Part 2
Last year, around this time of the year, I did a radio talk on VoARadio Network on a topic of Quantum Physics of Belief – Emotions and also followed up with a blog article in response to a listener question on Amygdala Hijacks. (You may want to click on the hyperlinks, to refresh your memory on those events.) This week, I thought it appropriate to extend this discussion to shed some more light on this topic.
Let me illustrate a scenario to make it easy to understand and also set a suitable setting for this discussion. You have arranged a status meeting on a marketing campaign that you are leading. You have got a full agenda to cover so you get to the conference room a few minutes early to make sure the PowerPoint is ready. Some of your team members are already there, and they are obviously grumbling and moaning about something. You hear some of their mumblings, while they snarl and shake their heads. But, you need to get them focused on the meeting agenda, so you avoid getting into their conversation. Just as you are ready to start the meeting, a few more people show up and now you see even more snarling and hear even more derogatory remarks about the managers who are meeting in another conference room down the hall from where you are.
You know there is absolutely nothing you or the team can do to influence what’s happening down the hall, and spending time discussing it will just put your project behind. However, you also know the team is emotionally panicked by this threat, and you need to do something to get them to refocus on the project. What would you do?
So, you tell them that they have got fifteen minutes to talk about it, and start by saying you have no idea what’s being discussed down the hall, but lots of companies are moving to the cloud and the company needs to position itself to meet the challenges that are considered a real threat.
Give a 15 minute air time. Spending fifteen minutes on it won’t resolve anything, and those fifteen minutes of team time are precious to your project. You are not being cavalier with the team’s emotions but rather you are skillfully helping them process their fear.
You know that acknowledging a threat will make it less distracting than having it loom as a possibility. Our emotional system, the amygdala (section of the brain, see picture below) in particular, is designed to continuously scan our surroundings for potential threats and warn our conscious mind if one arises. It’s part of our survival instinct. We are always subconsciously looking for patterns that could warn us of danger. We may subconsciously hear someone say “quarterly sales are down” and suddenly our amygdala sends a warning that puts our body on red alert and tells our conscious mind that our job is in danger. If our conscious mind ignores or denies it, our emotional system keeps sounding the alarm. This keeps our amygdala active and makes it difficult to concentrate on anything else. You can imagine how vital this would be if you were hiking in Alaska and a Grizzly bear were approaching.
Not only does the amygdala warn us of possible danger, it also heavily influences our thinking. If there is a looming potential threat, our amygdala becomes more active and extra vigilant to determine if the threat is real. It can shift our entire brain into a withdrawal orientation, where all of our attention is focused on the threat. This can raise mental filters that bias subsequent information processing, causing us to look at the world through a filter that interprets ambiguous events as possible dangers. We see the managers walk into a meeting and we jump to the conclusion that they are talking about getting rid of our job.
Acknowledging a threat brings it into consciousness where it can be processed. If our conscious mind acknowledges the threat and either takes precautionary action or decides that none is needed, our amygdala can let up. It can stop scanning for the threat and the mental filters can be dropped. We can then concentrate on something else.
When you acknowledge something as a threat; it then becomes recognized in the consciousness of each person, rather than looming as a potential threat triggering their amygdala. You also give your team some time to determine if follow-up action is needed. The team, as well as each individual, can consciously decide how they are going to process this threat. They may decide to have a follow-up discussion to assess realistic alternatives or they may make a mental note to reconsider their personal career path. Whatever they decide in those fifteen minutes will ideally be enough to satisfy their emotional mind that the threat has been acknowledged and will be handled.
This doesn’t mean the threat is resolved in that fifteen minutes, but rather there is a plan in place to resolve it. This is one reason why solid issue and risk management in a team is so powerful. They tell our emotional systems that they don’t need to be constantly on duty scanning for the threat because we have a conscious process to deal with it.
If you had tried to squelch the conversation and get the team to focus on the project at hand, the team would have had difficulty moving past the fear. Their emotional systems would have kept surfacing it to get their conscious minds to pay attention. You shifted the fearful potential threat into a conscious thought that could be processed, which helped each person put their attention on the project at hand.
As we learn more from neuroscience about the incredible power of group emotions, we see reasons to adopt techniques beyond the ordinary. How are you dissipating the Amygdala hijacks in your daily life? I’d love to hear your stories (please use the comments section below.)
Dr Surya M Ganduri, PhD. PMP. is the Founder & President of eMBC, Inc., an international firm specializing in strategic and executive leadership development processes that Help People Succeed in an Evolving World. Dr Surya has over 28 years of business experience in management consulting, leadership development, executive coaching, process improvements, organizational development and youth leadership. For more information visit www.eMBCinc.com or contact eMBC, Inc., directly at (630) 445-1321.