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What are Mirror Neurons?
Mirror neurons are the physiological foundation for empathy. The way mirror neurons work is like this: If you see me beam a big smile at you, you have neurons fire in your brain that would fire if you were beaming a big smile at me or somebody else. That is if you are beaming a big smile, countless neurons are firing in your brain to make that happen. When you see me give you a big smile, a few of those neurons in your brain fire. Again, they’re the physiological foundation for empathy. They allow us to understand what another person might be thinking, feeling, or intending. Psychologists called this “theory of mind”, our ability to look at somebody else and say, “Hmm, she seems frustrated,” or, “Hmm, she seems particularly excited today.” That skill of being able to read people is enormously powerful in organizations.
How are you using Mirror Neurons?
Very few of us work alone these days. Most of us work with other people. The question is how effectively are we working with other people? Well, a key to effectively working with other people is knowing where they’re at. How are they feeling? Are they feeling good or bad? High energy, low energy? Excited, discouraged or nervous? If you can read that in people, you know how they feel, how they’re approaching a project with you, how they’re responding to what you’re saying in a meeting, etc. Mirror neurons help us build better relationships, and science says that relationships are an essential factor in happiness for most of us most of the time.
Researched-Based Strategy: Make Eye Contact
The good news is you’re already wired with mirror neurons; you just have to use them. How do you use them? The best way to use them is to make eye contact with people at work. I know many of you work remotely and it’s harder to make eye contact. You can activate mirror neurons through a phone conversation if you have to, and even in email if you do it really, really well, but it gets harder the less eye contact you have.
For any of you who are fortunate enough to have this ability, get face to face with your colleagues. Eye contact communicates emotional and other information to each other so that we can sync up, get on the same page and literally and figuratively enjoy better relationships and do better work as a result of a brain that is thriving through human to human connection and conversation.