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Your Brain on Connection

Ever wondered why we’re drawn to connect with others? It’s not just a choice; it’s in our brain’s DNA. Our brains are hardwired for connection, a fascinating concept that delves into the very essence of our social nature.

This intricate process involves brain chemistry, understanding and interacting with others (social cognition), and managing our emotions (emotional regulation). It’s a complex interplay that relies on a handful of chemicals and neurotransmitters, some of which you’re likely familiar with, that significantly influence our behavior.

 Picture this: you’re having a great time with friends, laughing, and sharing stories. That warm, fuzzy feeling you get? That’s oxytocin, the ‘love hormone’, at work. It’s released during positive social interactions, fostering trust, empathy, and social bonding. It’s like the glue that holds our relationships together.

But it’s not the only thing in our beautiful brains that helps us to connect. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward—enjoyable social interaction causes our brains to release dopamine, reinforcing the desire for further connection and social engagement. It feels good, and we want more. Oh, how we love to feel safe and rewarded.

And then there’s Serotonin, another neurotransmitter and a mood regulator.  Serotonin has a wide range of functions in the human body, and it contributes to the feeling of overall happiness and well-being.

Connection and attunement, the ability to understand, resonate, and respond to the emotional states of others, creates a supportive environment where we feel comfortable expressing our thoughts, feelings, and perspectives openly. Effective communication allows for sharing ideas, concerns, and potential solutions, leading to a deeper understanding of the problem. There, in a nutshell, is what Exact Communication is all about and why we are so passionate about connecting and communicating.  We are more likely to collaborate, work as a team, and problem-solve when we feel connected.  And yes, our conversations become more meaningful, and we are more resilient.

Yeah, all that and more.  Our brain is a fantastic organ. You can help it by fostering behaviors that allow the brain to release these powerful reactions. One of them is getting enough sleep. Others are socializing, mindfulness exercises, getting enough sunlight, listening to music, and expressing gratitude.  And, of course, a healthy diet.

Then again, while ice cream may not help me connect with others, it does make me feel really good.

Let’s Talk…

Each month, we focus on one of our workshops. In May, we are focusing on Let’s Talk: Conversation and Connection. I got together with Terry Greiss and Temis Taylor to have our own conversation about conversation.

Carol:
What is it that keeps people from connecting and having authentic conversations?

Terry:

I think it’s fear.

I think connection implies vulnerability, and even if it’s not intimate vulnerability, I think that you need to be opening yourself up in order to connect with somebody else.

And that’s hard these days. We’re afraid of being judged. We’re afraid of being made fun of. Afraid that we’re not interesting enough for somebody to want to connect with us.

Carol:
I also think it’s a time thing. Real connection, authentic connection takes time. You must be consciously aware that you would love to connect with somebody.

And that means you probably have to slow down a bit and be in the present moment. And I don’t think we take the time to do that. We have so many things on our plate these days, I think we speed through and don’t stop to savor connection.

Temis:
I think that our need for efficiency, speed, and productivity also drives us for information. We just want the information out of the person. We don’t want the other stuff around it because that takes time. It’s dehumanizing for everybody, but it’s especially when you’re on a clock and you’re trying to hurry. We feel that sense of urgency and don’t bother putting the work in that it takes to connect.

Terry:
We’re very comfortable in our bubbles. We’re very comfortable talking to people who have the same worldview that we do. And I’m very uncomfortable often with people who hold a different worldview. It takes time and energy to connect with them; sometimes you just don’t want to do battle.

Temis:

It puts us in a place of discomfort.

Carol:
So how can we learn to connect with people with different worldviews?  People who have different values, ideas, or political leanings?

Terry:
You enter into the conversation with curiosity and respect, respect for the other person’s intelligence and experience.

I think a lot of people now default to, well, this is my truth or this is my lived experience and they think that’s the bottom line, that ends the conversation for them.

Temis:
I think that’s what I mean by affirmation, that it’s not that you agree with what people are saying, but they are a whole being who is valid in the other’s eyes.

Terry:
I like the word validity. I think we all want to be validated, and I think good conversation and good connection come when we’re no longer thinking about our validation when that’s just assumed. As Alan Alda says, real conversation takes place when both sides are willing to change. When I’m not having a real conversation, it’s because I’ve decided that I’m not going to change my mind.

Carol:
 How do our judgments stop us from having a real connection and real conversation?

Can we rise above that and find spontaneity and authenticity in the moment? Is that how we rise above judgment?

Terry:
Maybe recognizing when we’re being judgmental is the first step toward getting beyond it.

Temis:
I want to push on that a little bit. I think we’re always making judgments. It’s what we do with them. If we recognize them and dissect them or we’re critically evaluating them, that’s a different matter than just accepting them as truth.

Carol:
That takes a lot of self-awareness.

Temis:
I think that’s one thing that the “Rant Reflect, Reframe” exercise does. We show people how to get past those initial judgments. You rant, you get the angry person, and then you reflect, This is what I heard you say…this is what I understood from you.  But then there is the next step, where one backtracks on the judgment and sees beyond it to a person’s values. It helps us deconstruct it and peel back the layers so we can have some empathy for the person. We discover a way to connect.

Carol:
I want to talk a bit about our workshop, Let’s Talk: Conversation and Connection. Why would someone want to take a class on conversation and connection when we do both every day?  What are we teaching here?

Terry:
A great Flamenco guitarist in the 60s was asked why the guitar is so popular.

He answered,” Because it’s the easiest instrument in the world to play badly”.

I think that’s the same thing about conversations. It’s simple to open your mouth and think you’re having a conversation. But conversations need nuance, they need thought, they need time, as you said, and we don’t learn that anymore.

Society doesn’t teach people how to hold two conflicting thoughts in their heads at the same time so that they can work out through conversation or through reflection what they think about it.

Temis:
I think a lot of people hear a discussion or a debate as a negative. It doesn’t even have to be oppositional but just different views, and oh, it hurts, and it’s scary, and I’m shutting down.

Carol:
Yes, yes. In reality, though, real creativity comes from diversity. When you have a group of people who have different opinions and are able to have discussions and hold different ideas without it turning into a fist fight, that’s where creativity, really new ideas, are formed.

Terry:
Yeah, because the end of a conversation should always surprise you.

Carol:
I love that.

Terry:
I thought we were going to be talking about this, and we ended up talking about something entirely different. Isn’t that wonderful?  Or I thought you were going to tell me that you believed these things and you told me you believe something else. Or I’ve changed my opinion about this. If you know what the end of the conversation is going to be, why bother having it?

Carol:
Right. Or I have an agenda, I know what I want to discuss and there are times when I have a hard time letting that agenda go to allow something to happen in that moment.

Temis:
Yeah, in fact, one of the things that drives me absolutely bonkers are people who just have the same conversation over and over again.

You know, exactly what’s going to come up, exactly what they’re going to say, and it’s just like, yeah, why?

Carol:
What is the element of surprise? What does that look like? If we are to be surprised in our conversations, what does that imply?

Terry:
Curiosity, openness, and going back to that word judgment, holding back judgment. We may be judging, but hold, understand that perhaps I’m not ready to make the judgment about this conversation yet.

Listening all the way through to the end is really, it demands such presence from us. And conversation, I think it’s physically, emotionally, and mentally difficult or taxing. It’s demanding.

Temis:
It also can be energizing. It’s a full-body experience.

Carol:
That is a great way to say it.  Full-body attention is more than just listening. You are focused on the other person.

Temis:
Yes, and also on your own reactions.

When you’re listening to somebody, pay attention to your body because you’re going to have signals that you’re going off the rails, that you’re not going to respond well.

And if you can see those or feel those happening right away, you can go, oh, I need to just have a breath, or I need to watch myself or take a pause.

You’ll feel your body contract, or your fingers will tingle. Sometimes, my ears get hot when things are going badly. Knowing that those are the things that you’re going to feel when you’re going up into a bad headspace can help you do it differently.

Carol:
Yes, if you can be aware of the signals your body is giving you, you can remember to pause and breathe, and this will help calm your nervous system so you can make a better choice.

This conversation could have gone on for hours, as all of us at Exact Communication are passionate about connection and conversation. I’ve given you the highlights of our conversation; if we’ve made you curious about how you can get better at conversation and connection, reach out to us and have…a conversation.

A Creative Approach to Climate Change

It’s April, and that means it’s Earth Month when we celebrate this planet and the actions being taken to protect it. So we have a story celebrating someone using communication as action for you …

In the summer of 2021, we (Temis and Carolyn) taught Exact’s first two-day Communicating Climate Change workshop. Yes, it was in the heart of Covid, and yes, we taught it virtually over Zoom. Certainly not our preferred way to pilot a new workshop, but we had a lovely offer to teach through Genspace, the world’s first community biology lab in Brooklyn, NY, to introduce the course to our known community and their extensive one.

A deeply engaged and diverse group of future-concerned scientists, artists, biohackers, and educators attended both days from many time zones across the country and the world. We couldn’t have asked for a more dedicated group who discussed, shared, questioned, and participated with us and each other over a summer weekend. The farthest participant was from Pakistan – a full 9 hours ahead of NYC. A computer science professor and researcher, Dr. Umar Sheraz, joined us as his family prepared for bed.

In December 2023, Dr. Sheraz presented his first TEDX talk on gamification and climate change. He designs computer games to help people in Pakistan across occupations and interests relate to how climate change will and already is impacting their lives. And much to our joy, he shared his big news and thanked us for that workshop he attended more than two years ago.

And now we are sharing with you!

Dr. Sheraz exemplifies how to use his expertise to creatively introduce personal and professional climate change impact connections. His games allow people to “play” themselves in different climate scenarios to create a deeper, firsthand understanding. It’s a brilliant communication tool.

He also addresses that although Pakistan is a small contributor to global greenhouse gasses (only 1%), it is important to empower action over inaction. He helps people see environmental and social justice issues within the country’s borders that can be worked on locally to benefit future Pakistani generations. Much can still be done.

Congratulations, Umar, and thank you for your excellent talk, your positivity, your wonderfully creative climate impact work, and your investment in future generations.

For those of you working similarly to Dr. Sheraz, Exact’s Communicating Climate Change workshop could be for you. Check it out on our website and contact us if you would like to know more.

Take care, and happy Earth Month!

Umar’s TEDX talk:  Climate Change and Gaming: A Combination for Awareness and Action

There’s Going to be this Solar Eclipse…

On April 8th, we will experience a solar eclipse!  While there are many eclipses, there are not many total solar eclipses. If you miss this one, you won’t see another until 2045!  So, this eclipse is significant, and people from all over the world gather to do scientific research and enjoy seeing this phenomenon in our solar system.

While the allure of the eclipse is undeniable, it’s crucial to be prepared to experience it fully.  Exact was fortunate to work with Mark Laurin, an astronomer and  founder of Astro Mark, a company specializing in guiding night sky tours.

Mark, who was scheduled to appear on Colorado and Company, a morning show on channel 9 in Colorado, sought our media coaching for this live segment. His experience is a testament to the effectiveness of our training. Mark, a quick learner and a pleasure to work with, applied our tips and delivered an excellent performance.

https://www.9news.com/video/entertainment/television/programs/colorado-and-company/town-of-friscos-solar-eclipse-eventwoohoo/73-fe92ea7e-ca5e-43f6-9ba8-7d86f2cbc7bf

If you have an upcoming interview and feel the need for media training, we’re here to assist. Just like we did with Mark, we can help you prepare and excel in your media appearances.

Who Said Team Building is Easy?

There was a time when I was improvising for a living. That might be an exaggeration; I was hardly making a living. I was surviving and having a wonderful time doing so. I was part of an improv company called Chicago City Limits. We met while studying at Second City with the improv guru, Del Close. We formed our group, moved to New York City, and set up shop.

We began to fill seats after we received a good review from the New York Times, and the corporate people came knocking at our door. They wanted us to teach their people to do what we did. They wanted us to help them learn how to work together, think as one, and how to build on the ideas of others. In other words, they wanted team building.

Learning to build a great team has its challenges. It takes effort and more than a bit of generosity. The first step is learning to listen. It is no small feat, but the rewards of listening are many; one is improved communication, and nothing trumps that. A team also needs to know how to disagree, and when they do, disagreements become stepping stones to new ideas.

One corporate group we worked with was angry and frustrated with each other. Instead of appreciating their different perspectives and using that as an open door to creative solutions, they dismissed each other, and their numbers tanked. Our team-building workshop taught them to find common ground and develop good listening skills. They developed trust and appreciation for each other’s ideas even when they disagreed. Before the day ended, they behaved as a team with a clear idea of keeping their teamwork on target.

Today, when asked why we at Exact Communication use improv exercises in our communication workshops, the answer is simple: There is no better way of allowing every individual in the group to shine and to give people the experience of connection and communication. You can talk about these concepts all day, but they stick when experienced.

Our team-building workshop is like no other. It immerses you in the process of team-building. You will leave your comfort zone and enter a new space where collaboration becomes magical and communication exhilarating.

Terry Greiss is Clear + Vivid

Exact Communication proudly announces that our Terry Greiss is featured on Alan Alda’s “Clear + Vivid” Podcast this week.  Alan interviews Terry about Irondale Theater’s 40-year run and how Irondale uses history, theater, and improvisation to create unique theatrical pieces. Terry shares Irondale’s philosophy on how theatre can be used to foster community and shares the work Irondale is doing with New York City’s police officers in their program, “To Protect, Serve and Understand. You don’t want to miss this Podcast.

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/terry-greiss-acting-to-connect/id1400082430?i=1000647180171

The Validation of Clear Communication

Naomi Feil passed away on December 24th. If you don’t know Naomi Feil, you should. Look her up…right after you read this.

Ms. Feil spent her entire life working with people in advanced stages of dementia. People who seemed like they were locked away from the world. These people were treated as if they were lost. And they were. Or rather, they were there, just waiting to be found. Ms. Feil found them. Instead of following the conventional wisdom of pulling them into our “reality,” she visited them where they were. She communicated with them through the power of touch by serving as their mirror, leading them by letting them lead. She discovered the language they could hear and spoke to them in it, and they responded.

At Exact Communication, our takeaway is that successful communication starts with the idea that It’s always about them, your audience, or your communication partner, not you.

Real connection must work both ways, but it starts with the person we need to reach. The language needed to communicate with another person is theirs, not yours. Listen closely, put the focus on your partner, and they will let you know how to approach them and how to get through, whether you are dealing with a parent, a business partner, or an “adversary.” It’s always about them, so be willing to learn their language and use their vocabulary. When we really communicate, when we really listen, we validate the other person. We may disagree, but they feel understood, and sometimes that’s enough.

The kind of deep listening necessary, especially when the stakes are high, or the beliefs are very different, demands a willingness to (sometimes) give up control and allow yourself to be changed instead of just trying to change.

Thank you, Ms Feil. You persisted against the critics who didn’t understand…probably because they weren’t listening.

I don’t think there is any better way of describing the magic of her work than by watching it:

Naomi Feil, founder of Validation Therapy, shares a breakthrough moment of communication with Gladys Wilson, a woman who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2000 and is virtually non-verbal. Learn more at www.memorybridge.org.

Breathing in the New Year

This is the time of year when I look back at the past and think about what I can do better in the future. And because I’m a communication coach, I always reflect on how I communicate with others. Was I authentic? Was I clear? What can I do better next year?  And there is always something I need to improve on.

For 2024, it will be two things: slowing down and listening. They go hand in hand because one must slow down to listen properly to others.  And for me, this is a challenging task. I process quickly and sometimes get impatient when others need help to keep up. But communicating authentically means knowing my audience; if my audience processes slowly, then I must slow down and adjust.

And so, I’ve taken to breathing more. It helps. It helps me relax and be in the moment and opens a beautiful space for my conversation partner to catch up. Not only that, it also helps me connect to whomever I am speaking with. It is such a simple but critical thing, intentional breathing. It is breathing in service of connection, so I take a breath and take in my conversation partner, allowing them to be who they are in that moment regardless of whether I agree with them. This often shifts the conversation into a more generous place, allowing us to discuss all manner of things without getting reactive.

I have tried this, and it works. However, one must be willing to be changed by one’s conversation partner. If you have made a real connection, you will be changed. I’m not talking about agreement; you may never agree with each other, but you may reach a deeper level of understanding. And this, of course, is your choice. But it is always worth it when it moves toward understanding, empathy, and perhaps even compassion.

Communication BOO’s!

Miscommunication can be scarier than all the monsters on Halloween. Because monsters aren’t real, but miscommunication sure is.

We all miscommunicate.

We’re like those people in horror movies who know they should not go down the basement, and yet they do. (Insert Scream) We understand how important communication is, but we don’t always take the time to ensure we communicate effectively, and then…the boogeyman gets us.  Relationships suffer. We lose funding. We blow a presentation.

YIKES!

Okay, we’re busy people. We have things to do—places to go. Children to raise. Work to complete. Who has time to check to see if the moon is full tonight?

For example, we know how critical listening is, but it takes some focus. Great listening means not thinking about your response while someone else is talking. It means making eye contact, noting body language, and the speaker’s tone. It means quieting down your response to be fully present with another person. So, we don’t listen all that well; as a result, we don’t hear the chanting coming from the attic until the curse takes hold. Did someone say Beetlejuice?

We know that to avoid misunderstandings, we should ask clarifying questions like, “Is this what you mean?” or “Do I understand you correctly?”. But do we do so? Or do we walk away thinking we understand when we do not…until a vampire drains all the blood from all our arguments, and we are doomed to wander the earth each night, seeking clarity?  Where is Buffy when we need her?

Oh yes, miscommunication can get ugly.

So here is our Trick and Treat for you:

You don’t have to deal with the miscommunication monsters in the attic or zombies eating the best ideas in your brain.

You can take one of our Exact Communication Workshops and put a stake in the heart of miscommunication.  Just ring our doorbell or visit our website to see all the communication treats we have in store for you.  Oh, and Happy Halloween!

The Courage to Converse

This is what courage sometimes feels like: standing on an unsupported ladder and reaching into the heavens. In other words, it’s beyond me. This is undoubtedly true of physical courage, of which I have very little, although I did get all my vaccinations. I am not one for braving the cold, the dangerous, or the difficult. I’m more of a cup of tea and a good book gal. And this is okay with me.

I long for moral courage, especially in today’s world, where it is so needed. Instead of walking away from someone with conflicting opinions, I want to have the courage to respond more honestly, listen carefully, and ask questions. Rarely do opportunities like this present themselves because most people I meet are not interested in having a dialogue once they discover we disagree. I sincerely wonder if we have lost the art of discourse. Rather than discuss, we agree to disagree and call it a day. And this works, but only so far. These kinds of conversations are not satisfying. They leave me feeling incomplete. Yes, we avoided conflict, and we also avoided each other. I want the courage not to avoid each other but to converse and to dialogue about difficult topics.

In our workshop, Navigating Challenging Conversations, participants are given opportunities to practice listening, reflecting, and reframing challenging conversations. They learn to recognize and connect shared values and discover common ground in difficult situations. They are given tools and time to practice navigating conversations. These are skills that, in today’s climate, we all need. You don’t get moral courage without taking some action, and this workshop guides participants safely into actions that provide insight, empathy, understanding, and dialogue.

So, if you want a deeper dive into conversations, check out our Navigating Challenging Conversations workshop.  It has given me the courage to move forward and engage.

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