An important question for gratitude, connection, and development.
In a fantastic podcast interview with Harvard Business Review, Richard Boyatzis, co-author of Helping People Change: Coaching with compassion for lifelong learning and growth, mentions an important question to ask people if you want them to be in the frame of mind for growth and change. Growth and change. What better topic for times such as these. Growth and change are typically uncomfortable as we are thrust into something new and different, but this is precisely where the magic happens. Rather than reacting to scenarios which force growth and change, let’s think about what’s possible if we tee up our mindset to embrace it.
You will want to listen to the whole interview and probably buy his book because it is just that good, but I’ll put the question here so you don’t have to frantically pause and reverse the podcast as you scramble to scribble down his words like I did:
Who’s helped you the most become who you are?
While virtually everything Boyatzis says in this interview is profound for anyone who leads, manages, works, or lives with other people (do you need to hear me say it again? Listen to the interview. Read his book.), this question stands out for how simple yet powerful it is. Boyatzis explains: “One of the reasons that works is it pulls on gratitude. And gratitude is one of these emotions that we now know helps activate a part of the body’s hormonal system and neurological networks that make us open to new ideas.” Asking someone this question immediately pulls them out of the here and now issue and into the bigger picture. It centers them and urges them to recognize on whose shoulders they stand. It opens people up to gratitude.
Gratitude. Gratitude can often feel like a soft word. Maybe a word that doesn’t deserve a front row seat in leadership or development. While it may feel soft, gratitude packs some hard science. When Boyatzis mentions gratitude activating neurological networks, he’s speaking about the medial prefrontal cortex, the area in the frontal lobes where the hemispheres meet. This magical little spot in the brain is associated with:
- learning and decision-making over time
- understanding other perspectives and empathy
- emotional regulation and relief
- stress and pain reduction
Every workplace and team and community would benefit from leaders who access greater capacity in the four bullets above. fMRI scans show gratitude has the power to increase the activity in this portion of the brain. Finding ways to increase gratitude in your people and yourself, for your people and yourself, can literally wire your brain for these essential skills.
Go down the rabbit hole just a little deeper with me for a second. The part of the brain that is activated with gratitude is also a part of the neural network that lights up when we socialize and experience pleasure; and it is closely linked to the body’s “mu-opiod” network which is activated during close interpersonal touch (Thank you, Glenn Fox). If we believe the data of organizational researcher Brené Brown, then indeed, “human beings are wired for connection.” In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, many of us are suddenly thrust into a reality where socializing and touch is diminished. The connection for which we are wired is weakened and threatened. Perhaps now more than any other time in recent history, we need things that draw out our gratitude and connection on a biological level.
And if you still need more persuading to ponder this question for yourself, consider how often gratitude and appreciation are left out of our working relationships (and many personal relationships too!). I cannot think of one single person who has ever told me they have felt too appreciated or too recognized for their contributions. So many people gloss over impacts, big and small, others have had on their lives. If you can be a person who takes the time to provide heartfelt gratitude and acknowledgement, you will stand out for the most wonderful reasons.
So, who’s helped you become who you are?
- Answer this for yourself
- Share it with the people for whom you are grateful
- Engage your people in answering this question for themselves
- Spread it wide so others can access their own gratitude practice, inspired by yours (tag @agcollaborative)
You’ll be grateful you did. 😉
This post was written by Kat Schulte, CliftonStrengths & CQ Certified Coach at AG Collaborative.