As we go about managing our careers, we may seek help from official or unofficial coaches. How these relationships develop impacts our thinking – which may impact our learning. Below is an excerpt from the Hawk Eye Coach Training Program.
“This focus on the mind of another person harnesses neural circuitry that enables two people to “feel felt” by each other. This state is crucial for people in relationships to feel vibrant and alive, to feel understood, and to feel at peace. Research has shown that such attuned relationships promote resilience and longevity.” – Dr. Daniel Siegel
Attunement is about being focused on the other person so that you are aware – present and responsive in a respectful way. Attunement can come from the connection to each other through non-verbal communication.
Attunement creates a sense of safety that each party will come to the experience without criticism or blame. This results in trust building. Attunement can do that. It can link the unknown to the familiar. So, when linkage occurs, communication and meaning can resonate with each person. The coach and client relate and connect in a trusted, empathetic and positive way. Both honor each person’s intellect and emotions and value. This builds a strong climate or context for facilitating the client’s desired change and improvement.
“Leaders should be coaches in helping to motivate and inspire those around them (Boyatzis, Smith & Blaize, 2006). But not any old form of coaching will help. Coaching others with compassion, that is, toward the Positive Emotional Attractor, appears to activate neural systems that help a person open themselves to new possibilities– to learn and adapt. Meanwhile, the more typical coaching of others to change in imposed ways (i.e., trying to get them to conform to the views of the boss) may create an arousal of the SNS and puts the person in a defensive posture. This moves a person toward the Negative Emotional Attractor and to being more closed to possibilities. We decided to test this difference.”
Recent neuroscience has identified areas of the brain that allow us to have empathy. These parts of the brain can be developed over time, and the phrase, “neurons that fire together wire together” plays a special part in managing the growth or ability for empathy. Coaches can inspire more empathy by helping clients with rituals and patterns of practice that engage these parts of the brain.
Let’s take a quick look at the brain circuits in terms of empathy.
Sensing: The insula or insulae and the ACC (anterior cingulated cortex) light up in brain scans when people feel the emotional components of pain – that would be sorrow or fear for example. They also light up when we see or view another person in pain. Studies have shown that additionally these areas are marked when we experience very strong emotions ourselves or are witness strong emotions in others. It is like our brain – feels or relates to their brain and their pain.
Action/Acting: Initially this was thought of as the primary purpose of mirror neurons. Mirror neurons fire when we experience action that either we initiate or action we see, that our minds can recognize. (In other words if we have experienced the action in the past, when we observe someone else initiate those some actions our brains identify with the action and the mirror neurons fire.) Much more research is also showing these may be activated by hearing as well as seeing. However, to consider a basic view of mirror neurons would show that they activate when we commit to an action as well as when we view someone else behaving in a way that our brain recognizes.
“Mirror neurons are a type of brain cell that respond equally when we perform an action and when we witness someone else perform the same action. They were first discovered in the early 1990s, when a team of Italian researchers found individual neurons in the brains of macaque monkeys that fired both when the monkeys grabbed an object and also when the monkeys watched another primate grab the same object. Neuroscientist Giacomo Rizzolatti, MD, who with his colleagues at the University of Parma first identified mirror neurons, says that the neurons could help explain how and why we “read” other people’s minds and feel empathy for them.
If watching an action and performing that action can activate the same parts of the brain in monkeys–down to a single neuron–then it makes sense that watching an action and performing an action could also elicit the same feelings in people. The concept might be simple, but its implications are far-reaching. Over the past decade, more research has suggested that mirror neurons might help explain not only empathy, but also autism and even the evolution of language”. (The mind’s mirror – A new type of neuron–called a mirror neuron–could help explain how we learn through mimicry and why we empathize with others. By LEA WINERMAN, Monitor Staff, October 2005, Vol 36, No. 9, Print version: page 48)
Thinking: “Reasoning about the state of mind of another person, real or fictional, has been referred to as Theory of Mind processing… Theory of Mind refers to the ability to attribute internal mental states to others, as well as reasoning about one’s own mental state. These attributed internal mental states can be intentions, feelings, beliefs, and emotions.” 4 (The Role of the Theory-of-Mind Cortical Network in the Comprehension of Narratives Robert A. Mason* and Marcel Adam Just Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging, Carnegie Mellon University)
In a sense, when we observe others, we create thought-based inferences regarding the person’s values, plans and their intentions that help us to understand – give meaning to a possible relationship and deepen connections with them. We have the ability to attribute mental states not only to ourselves, but to others – realizing that people may have differences in beliefs, values etc. Meta-thinking is thinking about thinking. Theory of mind is how we think about our own thoughts and consider others’ thoughts, emotions and intentions. Our mind in a way predicts or supposes what other people’s minds intend to do – we base this on how we experience the other person – often by observing facial expressions or listening to verbal cues. The pre-frontal cortex supports theory of mind execution.
When you combine this notion of sensing and acting/doing with thinking, you reveal a powerful triage of tools that inspire our mind to simulate the experiences of others – literally inside our brains. We self-generate the experience (virtually) in a mental space that feels quite real. This translates to the ability to feel what the other person is feeling. And when we connect with that – when we create messages, body language and spaces that resonate with others based on empathy – we deliver results of great attunement.