Social neuroscience shows the way to meaning, thinking, positive emotion and performance

2019-05-24 · Andreas Benkowitz & Dr. Frank Kuhnecke
In the first article of our book, we identified
6 trends and insights that are particularly relevant for each individual, for teams and for organizations. In this article we also talk about the fact that the results of (social) neurosciences give clear indications for the design of the best (work)-world.
In our
second article we talked about the fact that for the human brain, fearlessness / positive emotion, relationship and meaning are basic conditions for an optimal “functioning” and thus also for a positive state.
Fearlessness / positive emotion, meaning - OK. But why relationship?
A little research and theory are necessary at this point. In particular, the work of two neuroscientists has shown us how fundamentally important relationship is for organizations to function optimally (How Emotions Are Made, Lisa Feldman Barrett (2018); Social Neuroscience, Russell K. Schutt (2015)).
Humans are
not genetically programmed to behave “socially”. All of us had to learn this “herd behaviour”. At the same time, we as a species were always dependent on cooperation with others. The small, weak Homo Sapiens Sapiens alone in the savannah - without other Homo Sapiens Sapiens - no chance. But a group of Home Sapiens Sapiens who can communicate with each other, share their emotions and intentions, and align their behavior accordingly - no chance for tigers, lions, or any hunters whatsoever.
So, we had to be “social” to survive. Current neuro-evolution research concludes that our brain has evolved in this shape and size to create exactly this ability. We need the other Homo Sapiens Sapiens and this is deeply anchored in our brain.
The second aspect is emotions. Emotions strengthen group bonding. For stable groups, expanding the emotional repertoire is crucial to increasing the strength of social bonds and the cohesion of the group. We needed more emotions to survive, which meant we needed larger and networked subcortical brain areas. The human brain has been shaped to support social bonds and improve group functioning. Today, social bonds make us healthier and increase life expectancy.
Thus, our brain is - above all - social. It’s made for communication. Its plasticity makes it possible to react much more flexibly to group situations. A brain that is both social and plastic is a brain whose functioning can only be understood in a social context, in relationships. Human “sociality” is thus deeply embedded in the biology of the brain and thus in the conscious and unconscious functioning of our mind. In other words,
for the brain to function optimally, we need good relationships. Our cognitions exist mainly to maintain social relationships (and not the other way around!).
Because our brain is made for relationships, relationship disorders often dominate technical issues. A phenomenon that can be observed at all hierarchical levels. From our experience with leadership feedback, we also know that relationship disruptions or unclear relationships with one’s own manager are perceived as very stressful by employees.
In practice, this means that we should give space to individuals, teams, organizations with regards to building and maintaining relationships. Our organizations should be focused on building relationships!
For all of our brains to function optimally - for meaning, thinking, positive emotion and performance - situations must be created that increase the probability that
  • stable relationships can develop in which critical issues can be addressed and it is ensured that conflicts are dealt with in an appropriate manner,
  • positive emotions are created,
  • people are able to synchronize,
  • needs can be met,
  • people can check themselves, and
  • the activation of defense mechanisms is avoided.