Guest Post: 7 tips for Communicating in a Brain-Friendly Way
Mark's note: I'm back from vacation, but I have a few more great guest posts today and tomorrow as I get back into working mode. I'll be back on Monday. Liz Guthridge is a returning guest blogger — “The Lean Communicator.”
By Liz Guthridge of Connect Consulting Group
“Respect people's prefrontal cortex” should be a key tenet of lean, just as important as “respect people.”
Why? The brain's prefrontal cortexâ€”often referred to as the brain's executive functionâ€”tires easily. So don't tax peoples' brains to decipher what you're trying to say and ask. Instead, take responsibility for communicating with them in a clear, simple manner.
By being respectful and making it easier for others, you'll help people apply their brainpower more effectively. They can focus their prefrontal cortex on what this brain region does best. This includes making decisions, moderating correct social behavior and orchestrating thoughts and actions.
The seven tips are:
- Categorize information. Before you share information, sort it into big buckets and mention these first. For example, explain that you're going to talk about three important issues: teamwork, purchasing and training. Then share the particulars within each bucket. Research shows the brain's pre-frontal cortex uses categorization as a way to process information more efficiently and remember it better.
- Name thingsâ€”emotions, programs and goals. When you put words to emotions or other things, you help the brain's pre-frontal cortex conserve energy for other tasks. For example, think about this blog's lean horror stories, which Mark has named L.A.M.E (Lean As Mistakenly Explained or Lean As Misguidedly Executed).
- Be succinct, specific and solicitous. To do this well, you first have to be clear about the intent of your communication. That is, you must define your intended outcome. Then you have to develop a clear message that includes appropriate specifics. From the standpoint of the receiver's brain, a short message that has specific details instead of glittering generalities is easier to grasp and remember.
- Be visual. The brain pays more attention to visuals than to sounds. So include diagrams, graphics and photos as much as possible in your written communication and your presentations.
- Use metaphors. Metaphors are fundamental to the brain. We use what we know about our physical space and social experiences to try to understand other subjects, especially new situations. So when we explain that “A is B” it helps us connect the abstract to the concrete. As an example, consider this wonderful metaphor from Henry Winkler (yes, The Fonz from the sitcom Happy Days): “Assumptions are the termites of relationships.”
- Be positive yet don't sugarcoat. When people are in a state that's positive rather than negative they are more open and curious to new things. By contrast, if they are in a negative state, they feel threatened and can shut down.
- Set deadlines. The brain likes certainty, which in today's work world is in short supply. However, giving deadlines is one way to provide a sense of certainty. Just make sure they're meaningful dates.
These lean communications tips apply a 50,000-foot overview of acceptable neuroscience principlesâ€”specifically how our minds take in new information, process it and decide what actions to take.
And while others may not be aware of exactly what you're doing, their brainsâ€”not only their prefrontal cortex but also their unconsciousnessâ€”will appreciate the respect.
About Liz Guthridge: Liz is Managing Director of Connect Consulting Group. She works with leaders to implement high-risk strategic initiatives. Using neuroscience, behavior change and lean communication principles, she turns ambiguity and complexity into a clear path of action to achieve goals.