In “Mirroring People,” neuroscientist Marco Iacoboni writes about groundbreaking research into “mirror neurons,” smart cells in our brains that allow us to understand others. When we watch and listen to other people, these remarkable cells in our brains fire in a way that is synchronized with the cells in their brains.
When we’re fully engaged in a conversation, we imitate each other’s expressions and body language. We even automatically negotiate the meaning of certain words, so that we develop a shared understanding that may differ from dictionary definitions.
Iacoboni says “the words and the actions in a conversation tend to be part of a coordinated, joint activity with a common goal.” In effect, our mirror cells can transport us into another’s mind.
While Iacoboni’s book provides a careful look at the research, in “Just Listen” psychiatrist and coach Mark Goulston draws on science in order to offer practical tips for connecting with other people.
Goulston says that not only do we endlessly mirror other people, but also we desperately need to have others mirror us. He writes, “We constantly mirror the world, conforming to its needs, trying to win its love and approval. And each time we mirror the world it creates a little reciprocal hunger to be mirrored back.”
In today’s world, Goulston says, most people walk around with a “deep ache” to be seen, heard and understood. So if you can make someone “feel felt,” he says, you can break down barriers and reach others in ways that can be transformative.
A key to getting through to another person is to listen deeply and be genuinely interested in what he or she is saying. According to Goulston, the first step is to “stop thinking of conversation as a tennis match. (He scored a point. Now I need to score a point.) Instead, think of it as a detective game, in which your goal is to learn as much about the other person as you can.”
Before you can really listen, you need to get out of your own way. Typically when we meet people we put them in a mental box before we even know them. Our tendency to categorize people creates filters that limit our ability to hear them.
The solution, Goulston says, is to “Think about what you’re thinking. When you consciously analyze the ideas you’ve formed about a person and weigh these perceptions against reality, you can rewire your brain and build new, more accurate perceptions.”
When you are able to really listen, you have a tool for dealing with difficult people. Goulston says that most high maintenance, difficult-to-please people feel as if the world isn’t treating them well enough. They don’t feel “felt” or important. “People who complain and cause problems typically have a serious mirror neuron receptor deficit, and the more other people avoid or ignore them, the worse it gets.”
In short, Goulston says, “these people are driving you crazy for a simple reason: they need to matter.” If you want them to stop driving you crazy, you’ll need to satisfy that need. A quick fix can be to tell them that what they are saying is important, and thank them, letting them know that they have made a difference in your life.
Want to explore more issues like this? Contact Bev about workshops or seminars for your group. Meanwhile, visit Bev’s website at www.ClearWaysConsulting.com. Check out brief book reviews, ezine archives and Bev’s Blog. If you have questions or suggestions, email to Bev directly.
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