I like “clicking” with people in conversations – where it’s almost as if our brains are playing leap-frog. It’s fun being in sync. Now, new research from Uri Hasson of Princeton, highlighted in this month’s Harvard Business Review, demonstrates that successful communication results in a biological “meeting of the minds.”
With speaker and listener connected to functional MRI (fMRI) machines, the researchers demonstrated that the speaker’s brain and listener’s brain scans displayed widespread overlap or mirroring. Using follow-up comprehension assessments, they showed that neural mirroring increased as comprehension increased. When listener’s comprehension was highest, the listener’s brain activity appeared slightly before the speaker’s activity – meaning active listeners were able to anticipate what would be communicated next.
While this study was done without face-to-face communication (the subjects were inside of scanners), the researchers propose that face-to-face communication would create even stronger neural coupling. This due to the fact that mirror neurons discharge both when performing an action and when observing an action. Interestingly, neural coupling does not occur when hearing foreign languages spoken.
Speaking and listening are a shared function of two brains. Since reading these articles, I’ve been reconsidering effective communication. How do we work to intentionally use language patterns and words that are most likely to create neural mirroring and increase comprehension? In an organization or educational setting, how important is an agenda or pre-work for laying a common foundation for enhancing communication?
How does this impact your ideas about communication? What are the practical things that help you to be “in sync” in a conversation?