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IoIC Live 2017 part 2 – We’re only human

Last week 44’s Tom Ives took a good look at technology in the workplace in the first of our two-part blog series, following the IoIC Live 2017 event. Here he gets into another key theme of the day – human nature. Why do we act the way we do, and how does this affect our working lives?

I’m interested in technology and how it’s used in IC, so the Institute of Internal Communications (IoIC) conference provided some great food for thought. It’s people after all – your colleagues or employees – who will bring the technology’s potential to life.

We covered a lot of ground. Keynote speaker Angela Rossiter, Global Intranet Manager for Linklaters, warned us about an easy trap to fall in to: people often start with the tech options available, instead of the needs of the people that will use it. Graham Cox, ex-intelligence agent, drew from his experience in the field to talk about methods of persuasion, while Nicole Utzinger, an expert in psychology and employee engagement explained how our biology controls our thoughts, emotions and behaviours.

Trying to take it all in was like a marathon for my brain, but to make it more digestible for yours, here are my top three takeaways and a crash course in human nature:

1. The triple-layered brain

Humans can be easily fooled and manipulated. If you don’t know the tricks and pitfalls, you will lose out when presenting to peers or trying to influence your superiors. This is partly down to how external stimuli moves through the three layers of our brains:

– The first and oldest layer is the lizard brain that deals with unconscious instincts. It controls the most basic fight or flight reactions, charging us with adrenaline to deal with potential threats. Body language triggers these reactions. A certain stance of a presenter will make the audience uncomfortable or bored, with neither party aware of why their lizard brains have responded in this way.

– The second, younger layer is the mammal brain that deals with emotions and memories. Prejudices and gut reactions reside here, based on our experiences and in reaction to external ‘buttons’ such as someone innocently pronouncing our name wrong.

– The third, youngest layer of the brain deals with analysis, logic and our inner monologue. Unfortunately the last layer is responsible for less than 20% of our thoughts, and due to our biology, it’s last to the party. This is where the logic of sleeping on a problem before you decide comes in – if you wait and take yourself out of the moment, it gives your logical brain a chance to dominate that decision.

Everyone, from the CEO to a shop floor worker, is affected in the same way, so it’s worth identifying the triggers and patterns that govern their behaviour.

2. Body language

This is so influential because it speaks to our subconscious ear. For example:

– Having a relaxed, loose neck means you appear less threatening.

– Open, visible palms show no weapon is present to threaten your audience.

– A lack of eye contact tells your audience you want to be somewhere else.

These seem comical to our logical brain, but that’s after our lower brains have reacted. Whenever presenting something logical – like a PowerPoint presentation – remember the audience will react much more to your confidence and conduct, at a subconscious and emotional level, than to the content of the slides.

3. Personality goes a long way

In her presentation, Nicole also put a focus on different personality types and the thinking patterns that people have – the background ‘software’ running in our logical brain. They decide how we react to things we perceive externally and are a big part of our personalities. They often have two poles that humans fall on either side of. She called them metaprogrammes and considering them might help us understand why some teams around us work well together and others don’t. Here are the three that were most familiar to me:

– Towards and away

Just as we’re hard-wired to avoid pain or pursue pleasure, a ‘towards’ person is drawn in to explore an opportunity. An ‘away’ person will avoid risk and internalise the options carefully before acting. If we think in marketing terms, a ‘towards’ person is likely to lean towards Nike’s ‘Just Do It’ slogan, and an ‘away’ person might relate more to Mastercard’s ‘Don’t Leave Home Without It’. In a job interview, a ‘towards’ will be confident even if they don’t know everything yet, where an ‘away’ person will be more reticent and nervous even if they are the perfect candidate for the job.

– Internal and external

Someone with an internal frame of reference will rely mainly on their own judgement and experiences – they will be unhappy with their own performance even when others are praising them. Conversely, the external person looks to others to approve of their achievements and can be convinced by the will of a group.

– Matcher or mis-matcher

Matchers naturally find similarities in the world around them. Mis-matchers see the differences in the very same subject. Now you know why some people feel they have to disagree with your reasoning, even if you both agree on the conclusion. They’re just a mis-matcher, don’t hold it against them.

The background to metaprogrammes is contested by different academics, and many different schools of thought exist on psychology in the workplace. We each have a framework with which we identify more. Both Myers-Briggs and Belbin help teams find their own insight. Behavioural science is subjective; in my own experience I recognise metaprogrammes in the people I have worked with. It’s something I try to be aware of and use to create better user experiences.

So now we’re experts on human behaviour, we can try to influence, control and work around/recognise these different behaviour traits. And, where possible, combine this knowledge with great technology to see how we can make everyone as efficient as possible. Just look at how we use smartphones these days…

What do you think?

The conference provided a lot of food for thought, covering some great topics and what we’ve outlined here is only scratching the surface.

We want to know what you think. Has this made you think about your lizard brain? Give us a call.

Are you inspired? Let us give you a call

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