How to relate to others and proofs from the brain
He was walking around the workplace and you could notice how spectacular he was to relate to others. The people who were observing couldn’t understand what it was that was making him to connect so well with others. Was it his smile, was it because he was doing his work well, was something else inside his brain, it was a mystery. He passed from the administrator and before even being able to send his smile, he had received hers. He came across the guy that was serving the coffee and before even going next to each other they had exchanged a joke and then laughed loudly. After complimenting Mrs. X in an office a few meters next to his, he received a compliment about his shirt and a playful question from the new girl who had just joined the firm. Not letting his smile go away from his face, he passed the door and headed to find three of his friends and have lunch in a close restaurant.
I am sure that you all have observed situations like these however it’s not so common. But what is it that makes some people relate to others so successfully? Personally I was always admiring that. I had understood that a person that is able to relate so well to others immediately increases his/her quality of life. Even only by experience you can understand that is not a coincidence that there is always a smile in these people’s faces whereas most others are full of miserable feelings which are clearly demonstrated in their facial expressions. After learning more about this emerging science of human relationships named social neuroscience, I understood that not only these people have better feelings but their lives are easier because many doors open for them and many people are willing to help them.
Two brains relating with each other
All the beings in this planet that have a brain have, among others, one common characteristic. They contain designed unconscious mechanisms that scan the environment and try to control it. The brains immediately understand if there is a good potential mate, if there is a person of high social value near them, if there is a potential danger etc. In humans this is mostly a job of the part of the brain called amygdala. These mechanisms work efficiently and favor our survival and reproduction needs which are more basic than anything else.
The last few years, neuroscientists, after studying how a brain “behaves” according to the environmental stimuli, looked further and focused on the interaction between two brains. When two bodies and two people are interacting. And guess what, they found neural pathways that up to that time didn’t know they exist. The new fundamental discipline was that our brains are designed to connect with the social brain of the other person. It’s the only part of the human anatomy that is designed to relate according to the internal state of another human.
Mirror neurons and the social brain
The most important part of the brain that has to do with how we relate to others was the mirror neurons. Mirror neurons were discovered by accident one day in 1992 when an italian neuroscientist was mapping the motor cortex of a monkey and was observing which neurons where lighting according to its moves. So this hot day that the experimenter returned from a break holding an ice cream cone, he suddenly saw that even though the monkey didn’t move, a neuron that was normally lighting when the monkey was moving his hands, turned on. It was activating when the monkey just watched the assistant lift the cone to his lips. After focusing on these neurons they understood that actually they were turning on when the monkey was just observing other monkeys or other experimenters making a given movement.
After this ground breaking finding the same systems were discovered in the human brain, too. We now very well know about the existence of a social part of the brain. In a remarkable study a single neuron that was monitored was activating both when the human was anticipating pain-a pinprick-and when merely seeing someone else receiving a pinprick-a neural snapshot of primal empathy in action. Our mirror neurons fire when we watch someone scratch his/her leg but also can read intentions for extracting the social implications from what someone does, and for reading emotions. The social brain is what helps us to synchronize interactions without us thinking about that, it operates subconsciously. These lead us to decisions so that the interaction runs smoothly. When there is a group decision, when someone announces it they can all understand if there is a common agreement.
The backstage of human interactions
And think about this better. Mirror neurons are the emotional subtext behind the curtain of every interaction. Whatever you see from the outside, deep inside there is always something else. By the way we interact we make other people feel better or worse. This is what some people call aura. Our social brain senses, without us understanding this, the intentions of the other person. The mirror neurons are there to sense a smile and smile, too or to sense a potentially aggressive behavior and feel scared. When you smile the whole world smiles at you! You know why? Because you activate their mirror neurons towards laughing. And this makes them feel better. They don’t know why but they want to spend time with you. They are magnetized because at that moment they are full of nice feelings. The reason is that by subconsciously copying your smile they feel better. This is what we call mood whose difference with emotions is that in moods we aren’t able to distinguish which are its exact origins. Effective leaders have been found to laugh 3 times more than the mediocre leaders. Be careful of your facial expressions! How we connect with others has unimagined significance.
So social skills depend on mirror neurons among others. By understanding what we observe in another person we can fit our responses and track instantly what motivation is in play. Mirror neurons are extremely useful for children learning. The most significant way for children development is imitative learning. Findings on mirror neurons show that their children’s brain can be shaped towards mastery simply by watching. Social intelligence refers to how well we listen and tune to other people. Most people just say what they want to say and don’t actively listen to others.
This emotional tango when the two brain engage takes place in every human interaction. When we are bargaining and we want to figure out if we can ask for something more, when a person is thinking if s/he can trust his/her doctor, when a woman understands if the man likes her etc. These connections between the social brains release the corresponding hormones and as a result directly affect our physiology. And this is a double edged sword. We must maintain the relationships that cause positive feelings to us and stay far away from the ones that affect us negatively. The latter kind of relationships are poisonous…
The essence of rapport
Mirror neurons are what stand behind rapport which actually is the clearest sign of social intelligence. If you notice what happens in a moment of rapport, you will notice the posture and moving of the two bodies being similar even though there is supposingly autonomic function. You’re seeing the social brain in action. There exists mutual empathy, both partners experience being experienced. When people are really connected you can notice 3 main ingredients:
- Both people are paying full attention.
- The non verbals look like a choreograph dance even though they don’t consciously try for it. And there is a deep feeling of connection.
- It feels nice. Social psychologists have multiple times proven that the more two people’s moves are coordinated, the greater their positive feelings.
So the key to rapport is to be focused and express good feelings through body language and the tone of voice. What we say matters much less. The social brain, then, does the job automatically.
We are biological allies for the people that we love and are around us. We do things inside their bodies that are helpful.
Social Intelligence in Business and the huge contribution of Goleman
The by far most important scientist in the sector of social psychology is Dr. Daniel Goleman with his book Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships above all, but many other later books and publications. Goleman’s work has even changed how businesses work and what kind of characteristics they are looking in the people they may hire. Social intelligence is a key ingredient in the skills of a person that wants to succeed not only in personal relationships but in business, too. The last few years that science has extended the knowledge of the sector we can recognise maybe the most significant reason why leaders such as Richard Branson or Bill Gates are so succesful. They are very capable in relating to others and understanding their needs.
If we want to know how well we impact other people and evolve our social intelligence we need to take external feedback. We need to learn what other people think about us because we interact and affect them. Humans are not appropriate to perfectly judge themselves and actually most of us are sure that our social intelligence is much higher than what really is.
In order to enhance your social intelligence abilities Goleman proposes the following 4 steps:
- Ask yourself if you really care and if you are motivated because it’s gonna take a little effort.
- Get some feedback and ask in a way that they can be honest. For example in a company can be used a 360 device with anonymous feedback.
- Evaluate the findings and focus to the ones that you seem to have inefficiences.
- Make a learning agreement with yourself that you will be trying in any natural occurring way to behave the way you want to.
If you do that for a few months you will notice a great change that will affect every aspect of your life. And the things that you were seeing as supernatural or magical from others, you will start observing them happening to yourself.
When I wish to find out how good or how wicked anyone is, or what are his thoughts at the moment, I fashion the expression of my face, as accurately as possible, in accordance with the expression of his, and then wait to see what thoughts or sentiments arise in my own mind or heart, as if to match or correspond with the expression. ~Edgar Allan Poe