In work (as in life), there are some people you enjoy being around and easily collaborate with. And then there are others…some who don’t inspire you but don’t annoy you, and some that really frustrate you and become the motivation for happy hour or the face you conjure up in kickboxing class. Unfortunately, you can’t change other people, so that leaves you. Even small changes in your own behavior and attitude can have ripple effects on others, even those really frustrating others.
Science is beginning to explain what the poet Maya Angelou said so eloquently: “People will forget what you said, they will forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” When brain scientist Jill Bolte Taylor was recovering from a left-hemisphere stroke, she quickly realized the energy people brought with them into the room – everyone from family to healthcare workers – had a profound impact on her, especially since she was primarily using the right hemisphere of her brain, which focuses on the present moment and processes information intuitively. Dr. Taylor asked that everyone who entered her room be responsible for the energy they brought into it. (You can see Jill Bolte Taylor share her beautiful, heartfelt description of her stroke and the impact it had on her view of life in her TED Talk. It’s worth watching.)
Scientists have also discovered mirror neurons in our brains, which allow us to understand how others are feeling. Think of how your body reacts when you’re watching a scary or suspenseful movie, and how you may even jump physically when watching a surprise on screen. In one-on-one conversations, we affect each other on an energetic and emotional level, even if we’re not aware of it. If we approach someone with anger, they are more likely to respond in anger or defensively. And while we can’t change others energy, we can and have the responsibility of what energy we are bringing to a situation or encounter. If you remain in a state of peace and love, you are more likely to diffuse another’s anger. Being in that peaceful state also allows you to think more clearly and creatively. When we are in fight-or-flight mode, we don’t have access to the more creative, problem-solving portion of our brains.
I’ve found the quickest way to shift my energy is to take a few deep breaths (this relaxes your body and gets you out of fight-or-flight) and think of as many positive things about the person as you can. This changes your focus from what you dislike about them to what you do, even if it’s something your critical mind thinks is inconsequential, and helps you make a positive connection with them.
I’m not saying it’s always easy. Some people just know how to push our buttons, but the more you can stay centered and come with positive energy, the more successful the interaction will be.