Psychology Today

By Judith E. Glaser |
Published: May 6, 2015

I’ve spent my whole life studying rejection – it’s a personal thing… and one of my strongest life patterns.

I was thrown out from Nursery Schools for speaking up too much, I was thrown out of two camps when I stepped over the line and orchestrated ‘raids to the boys’ bunks’ for fun. I was put on dunce chairs for speaking up too much in first grade and was made to stay afterschool for asking ‘why’ too much in fifth grade.

Being rejected, thrown out, or having my voice suppressed has been one of the top three ‘fight back’ themes in my life. Since fear of rejection is hardwired into all of us I’ve been compelled to study, research, and experiment for three decades looking for a new approach. I’ve tried to constructively find healthy ways for human beings to deal with rejection by activating their ability to speak up in constructive, candid and caring ways.

Along the journey, I’ve discovered that being outspoken takes three things – the courage to speak up, the courage to listen, and the courage to stay in discovery until you find the best way for your voice to be heard. I call that wisdom Conversational Intelligence®.

Why WE Don’t Speak Up

Human beings fear rejection more than any other form of human interaction. Rejection piggybacks on physical pain pathways in the brain. fMRI studies show that the same pathways are activated when we are rejected as when we experience physical pain. This is why rejection hurts so much. Most fascinating is that when we take painkillers like Tylenol, research has shown that our feeling of ‘social pain’ also subsides.

As an Organizational Anthropologist, I’ve made a study of the rejection theme not only in my own history, but more so throughout our human history. The power of being accepted in the tribe and of staying in the tribe has been the core behavior needed to sustain our survival on this planet for thousands if not since man first appeared on Earth about 1.5 million years ago.

We cannot survive alone, and so tribal behavior for cohesion, for getting along, for fitting in is what enables people and cultures to grow and thrive. We are now being called together to ‘lean in’ to ‘learn more’ and to figure out how to be a more “WE-centric” universe. If we fear that speaking up will lead to rejection, we may give up our voice, silence our voice or speak our voice in an unauthentic way – all choices which allow us to hide with a more deleterious after-affect: giving up our voice masks our true identity and diminishes our uniqueness – a decision that leads to illness, to failure to thrive and to shaping a disempowering life.

Why WE Don’t Listen

Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust & Get Extraordinary Results has at its core the most vital principle that holds all of humanity together in conversations, through a simple, primal, and practical primary principle: Listening to connect.

We now know from neuroscientific research how the brain opens up or closes down during conversations. We know from our own personal experience, that when we work with others as ‘peers’ and our ‘peers are open to listen to connect, the quality of our conversations elevates. In addition, our ability to generate new ideas, especially really different and radically new ideas, elevates, and we trust that we will not be rejected, or diminished or judged.

How we listen impacts the quality of our relationships, our partnerships, and our ability to achieve success with others. Listening is not an end in itself, but part of a dynamic process among people that creates space for growth and engagement, for sharing and discovering, and for enabling new ideas, thoughts, wisdom, and growth to emerge.

Listening to connect quells our lower brain – the amygdala – which responds to our visceral and emotional inputs – and creates space for a level of listening that enables us, and others, to feel a sense of appreciation, openness and trust.

People thrive on connection and appreciation; not criticism and judgment. When we listen to connect we create a platform for peering into each other’s minds without judgment, and for being catalytic in helping each other birth our next-generation thinking.

How fascinating that Peer-coaching and ‘peering into each others minds without judgment’ have a deep, deep connection that makes both the verb and the noun come alive in a new way!

Peer (verb)
To look keenly or with difficult at someone or something; look closely into someone’s eyes, to be just visible.

Peer (noun)
A person who is equal to another in abilities, qualifications, age, background and social status; something or someone of equal worth or quality.

Why WE Don’t Stay in Discovery

For example, Coaching Conversations that trigger exclusion and judgment cause us to recoil from speaking up and impact the level of engagement we can have with others. Coaching Conversations that make us feel like our territory has been limited or taken away, and those in which we feel that people are withholding important information from us, cause us to feel diminished, and not part of the team.

When we judge others, their brain and heart close down. When we appreciate others, our brain and heart opens up. Having a nurturing, appreciative environment keeps our brains open to ‘contemplate and share’ novelty and newness. When we adopt the framework of listening to connect, we improve our ability to set the stage for us to birth the ‘new’ and to be able to communicate in ways that support making better decisions.

Some Peer Coaching Conversations make us feel stupid or appear to punish us for speaking up, and these send us into “flight, fight, freeze, or appease” behaviors, those fueled by our primitive brain. Coaching Conversations that stir up self-doubt or cause us to want to get back at others trigger high emotions that block our best thinking, and turn us from friend to foe.

The power of learning to have Intelligence Coaching Conversations happens when:

  • WE cultivate the ability to learn to ‘peer’ into each other’s eyes without judgment - with ‘candor and caring’ with the intention of creating and catalyzing growth in others.
  • WE are able to listen to feedback, we are able to have an open heart to take in new insights, and we end up feeling good about ourselves – and empowered to try new things.
  • WE give feedback in healthy ways – with candor and caring – our listening expands, our brain (prefrontal cortex or executive brain) opens up to help us absorb and use the feedback in healthy and constructive ways. Intelligent Peer-Coaching is a sub-set of Conversational Intelligence. It’s the power to elevate our collective ability to be open to and be skilled at giving and receiving healthy developmental feedback. It takes practice.

Judith E. Glaser is CEO of Benchmark Communications, Inc. and Chairman of The CreatingWE Institute; an Organizational Anthropologist, consultant to Fortune 500 Companies, and author of four best-selling business books, including Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results.

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