Convergence at Work: How Science is Improving the Ways We Work and Relate

by Paul Meshanko

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For the past 20 years, I’ve immersed myself in the complimentary disciplines of organizational culture, group effectiveness and personal mastery. Because of the breadth of these topics, it became equally important to understand some of the basic tenets of psychology, anthropology and, more recently, the rapidly evolving field of neuroscience. Simply put, I have intentionally become cross-trained in multiple disciplines that inform how people and organizations work, adapt and improve.

For me, this approach works because none of the disciplines alone can satisfactorily address the challenges of increasingly complex organizational structures and globally influenced cultures. Even together, the research and findings from these intersecting fields must be synthesized and distilled into models and best practices that can actually be deployed. This is where the gold can be found; figuring out how complimentary findings from all of these fields can come together to better inform how we become happier, more effective individuals, while at the same time, bringing our better developed talents together to form more effective and engaging work communities.

For people like me, these are very exciting times. They’re exciting because we are finally able to scientifically explain and validate some tried and true elements of conventional wisdom (like the Golden Rule), while discarding others that don’t pass muster (like “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me”). Others, like “it takes 21 days to build a new habit”, can be true, but only under the right circumstances.

One example is the subject of disrespect in the workplace. While most people intuitively sense that treating others in ways that demean, belittle or devalue them is damaging for morale and engagement, what they may not know is why. It turns out that our brains process social pain in much the same way (and in the same areas) that they process physical pain. The only difference is that, while we can oftentimes see physical injury to our bodies, the wounds from social pain are largely invisible to the eye. Yet the damage is no less real and no less costly. A single act of disrespect may trigger our “fight, flight or freeze” response and result in the loss of up to half a day of productivity to the receiver. That’s because it can take our bodies up to 3 ½ hours to dissipate the resulting release of cortisol and adrenaline that inhibits our prefrontal cortex from focusing on the work tasks we were hired to perform.

In the upcoming months, I’ll be publishing a series of posts that explore some of the most talked about themes in personal and group performance. I’ll look at the science and psychology of unconscious bias and what we can do to minimize the degree to which our hidden preferences lead to ineffective decisions and behaviors. I’ll explore the most effective strategies to date for goal pursuit and behavior change. Later, I’ll explore how gender mix affects group intelligence, and how language and vocabulary may prove to be the most valuable tools that senior leaders can use to increase engagement and performance. Until then, stay curious!