Our conscious awareness has already been framed and filtered, but is it fixed?
By Nicklas Balboa, Richard D. Glaser, Ph.D., Debra Pearce-McCall, Ph.D. & Amy Eliza Wong, MA
By the time something reaches our conscious mind, it may have already been framed and filtered.
Bottom-Up Process: The RAS
One of the oldest parts of our brains, the brainstem (located near the base of our skulls), contains the reticular activating system; the brain's ignition system and sensory filter. The RAS is a bundle of web-like neurons only about the size of your pinkie, yet this filter is the critical catalyst for staying open to influence and our ability to connect, navigate, and grow with others. Sensory connections from the nerves of the eyes, ears, mouth, face, skin, muscles, and internal organs feed into the RAS from the top of the spinal cord1.
Ascending (upward) connections from the RAS go to the thalamus (a sensory information relay station) and the cerebral cortex, playing a regulatory role in our circadian rhythms of sleep, wake, and alertness. This pathway activates the entire cortex with energy, waking it up so to speak, increasing our levels of arousal for interpreting incoming information and preparing the brain and body for action.
The RAS is also the site of habituation: This is a process in which the brain learns to ignore repetitive, unimportant stimuli while remaining sensitive to others2. A good example of this is a person who can sleep through passerby trains and outside noise, but wakes up to the sound of their alarm. Without these filters, we would become overloaded with information. Of course, our human dilemma is that these pre-existing filters influence our awareness in a way that can spiral us into closed-minded rigidity.
Introducing Conversational Intelligence®
Conversational Intelligence® (C-IQ) is a groundbreaking, neuroscientific framework that is revolutionizing entire industries, and profoundly shifting the way we interact and connect as human beings. C-IQ will open up a new lens for:
Understanding and redefining what conversations are,
Why neuroscience plays such a significant role,
And how you as a leader can leverage these powerful methodologies with your associates, teams and partnerships.
Understanding and utilizing the neuroscience of conversations will enable you to achieve profound transformational results and revolutionize the way we interact as human beings.
In order to do our work with our leaders and peers we need to be alert and attentive, able to notice and inhibit impulses, and regulate and understand strong emotions—which means being at what we could think of as a nervous system “Goldilock’s state”—not too agitated, not too relaxed, but just right for the given situation.
The brain filters the world through the parameters (frames) you give it, and your experiences and beliefs shape those parameters. For example, this is why after purchasing a car, you will tend to notice more of the same make and model on the road. By aligning our frames and filters with our whole brain and mindful intentions, we can utilize nature's gifts to start a positive virtuous cycle.
The Top-down Process: The Prefrontal Cortex Often compared to an orchestra conductor, the prefrontal cortex has the power to impact the RAS. One of its primary functions is to dampen and coordinate the information streaming up from the body, brainstem, and limbic regions. This form of selective attention allows us to focus on what is important while minimizing distractions. With practice, we can open our minds to ever-changing flows and patterns of information within and around us. This intentional growth allows us to influence and even modify these filters and frames. By translating and integrating environmental and internal information, through the slow and fast tracks of electrochemical information flowing into it, the prefrontal cortex helps us make judgment calls, have empathy and compassion, and anticipate the future. A long-term impact of embodying the concepts found in the C-IQ framework is that you create new perceptual filters for understanding conversations, and thereby understanding yourself, your relationships, organizational cultures, and how to powerfully and sustainably facilitate positive change. Consider the C-IQ Catalyst Tool®, which invites the participants to become aware of some of the ways they frame and filter conversations. When you first take the tool, results reveal automatic patterns about your perceptual filters in everyday interactions. Then when you have a conversation about the results from the tool, using the Conversational Essentials, new possibilities are created. This uses the prefrontal cortex to “open” the filtering of the RAS so different information can get through that bottom-up processing, and we begin to see the world through a different lens! Here are a few examples of Conversational Essentials that open you up to new filters:
Being Open to Influence
Listening to Connect
Asking Questions for Which We Have No Answers
Sustaining Conversational Agility
Priming for Trust
Case Study In a recent case study, a forward-thinking Silicon Valley organization reached out to C-IQ Certified Coach, Amy Eliza Wong. Their goal was to strengthen team relationships. She was not at all surprised to hear that they were already doing a decent job of being caring, candid and courageous with each other. The team wanted to amplify what was working and put a finger on the things that could be better. article continues after advertisement Addressing their need for relationship building and communication tactics for better meeting management, Wong introduced them to the idea that unearthing trust - helping them make the invisible visible about all aspects of trust in their communication patterns—is an opportunity for powerful growth, collaboration and innovation with their stakeholders. Wong spent a half-day with the entire team, leading them through an experience to increase trust with each other. The team set the goal of increasing their awareness of C-IQ through the implementation of C-IQ’s Conversational Essentials and Catalyst Tools®. Conversations are Multi-Dimensional The 3 levels of conversations. Source: Judith E. Glaser/CreatingWE Understanding how to access the right dimension for a situation is the art of conversations. There are three levels of conversations, each representing a way of interacting with others. By Introducing the team to the three levels of conversations, Coach Wong helped make the team’s interaction dynamics visible in a new way, shedding a light on conversations that were either drawing folks in and opening them to trust or pushing them away and closing them down. The team appreciated practice in mapping all of their typical conversations within the three levels of conversation framework and reported that the activity increased trust among the team. They discussed how understanding these three levels yielded an appreciation of the fact that sustaining trust is not always intuitive, which is a big eye-opener for many. Concluding the engagement, they all left with a heightened awareness of their intention and impact in communicating, and tools to facilitate their teammates’ best thinking, creating and collaborating. The team now regards trust not as a by-product of friendships and amicable interactions, but instead a living entity that needs to be nourished with deliberate care and attention. article continues after advertisement Following a month of practicing communication through a new lens of trust and using the Conversational Essentials to enhance their collaboration, the leadership team within the group decided to take it further and implement the C-IQ Catalyst Tool® to broaden their understanding of their specific patterns and impact. This ‘quick study’ tool unlocks the patterns of conversations and provides a cultural fingerprint of how people at work engage with each other, while helping clients gain powerful insights into their Neurochemistry of Conversations®. In this teams’ case, Wong knew that the best intervention is the least kind of intervention. By spending a good part of the morning co-creating Rules of Engagement so that their time together was meaningful, effective, and generative, they created a safe and powerful space for the team to share ideas and establish agreements with each other. The leadership team then coached each other on their individualized C-IQ Catalyst Reports and increased not only their awareness of their personal impact, but gained deep insight, understanding, and appreciation of each other. This exercise helps identify blind spots and explains the quality of relationships. Self-awareness—or awareness of one’s impact—is one half of the equation of C-IQ. Going through this process awakened the team to the fact that to be a steward of high trust, they must understand how their conversational patterns and behaviors are either opening people up - giving them access to their best and most creative thinking, or closing them down -causing others to withhold and protect their ideas. After understanding the interplay, or simultaneity, of their unique patterns and habits, the team translated their self-awareness into an action plan for partnering with their senior leaders in an intentional and powerful way. They discussed what behaviors they wanted to shift in order to facilitate a stronger partnership. They gravitated towards a plan to ask questions for which they had no answers to spark creativity and innovation, double-clicking on widely known initiatives and commonly used terms to close reality gaps, and practice more transparency to connect on shared intentions. article continues after advertisement Today, the team practices proactive communication built on an ever-evolving foundation of trust. With heightened awareness of their patterns and impact, they work to evolve expectations to powerful agreements and intentionally connect with others at a candid, caring and courageous level. The power of increasing trust. Source: Michael Bud/CreatingWE New Realities This transformative story is an example of how powerful conversations can be. Because our brains are constantly filtering out information, we can lose awareness of our own blind spots, and become stuck in the same conversational rituals! Conversational Intelligence® is such a powerful methodology because it creates a new lens to view reality. When framing things through a C-IQ lens, the world of neurochemistry turns on and we become aware of the influence that we have on our own thoughts, feelings, actions, and even more vitally the impact we have on others. Raising this awareness, along with creating a safe environment, allows for the types of conversations that lower people’s guards and establishes a foundation of trust. By grafting C-IQ rituals into your interaction dynamics, you will discover new doors opening up in your mind and in your reality. Nicklas Balboa is a researcher and project manager for the CreatingWE Institute. Richard D. Glaser, PhD, is a biochemist and founder of the CreatingWE Institute. Debra Pearce-McCall, PhD, is a Psychologist and Executive Coach who integrates the art and science of mind and brain in her consulting, speaking, and writing. Amy Eliza Wong, MA, is the founder of Always on Purpose, Executive Coach and keynote speaker who works with leaders and teams on transformative communication and leadership. References 1 Willis, 2009. http://www.ascd.org/ASCD/pdf/journals/ed_lead/el200912_willis.pdf 2 Garcia-Rill, E., Virmani, T., Hyde, J. R., D'Onofrio, S., & Mahaffey, S. (2016). Arousal and the control of perception and movement. Current trends in neurology, 10, 53–64. More references