Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Facing a Conflict? Don't simply trust your brains

How we think?
It is really fascinating to sit and understand how a human brain works. Every situation presents itself in a way worth exploring to understand and enjoy the complex thinking. Faced with a conflicting situation a person is bound to be anxious or guilty and starts to lament about what happened. The natural reaction from you side to such a stimuli is to use the arguments presented by the other person and offer solutions. This may or may not cut ice with the other person but one thing that you can be certain is that you have a biased version of the situation. Why do I call it a biased situation?  We believe that our brain is super perfect and rational but there are enough evidences to prove how biased we are and how we subject ourselves to memory illusions albeit unknowingly.

So I decided to do what most of the spiritual gurus advise us to do when faced with conflict... "Relax, take a deep breath and observe" the situation presented... What I discovered during this journey was something really fascinating.  I did make an extra attempt to corroborate this discovery with an experiment done by neuroscientist on how we respond when faced with anxiety or guilt... A clue  ..." Motivated reasoning"

Recently I received a call from one of my classmates. We were colleagues at work some years back. After exchanging pleasantries, we started talking about his current work... Soon into the conversation he started to complain a lot about work and how his ideas were never considered by the top management. I was able to infer that he was just out of an agonizing meeting and his work situation was very depressing. As we moved along in the conversation, the tone changed from anxiety to confidence... The conversation moved from how anxious he was about the fact that his ideas were not accepted to how his ideas made a lot of sense that the company would miss out on a lot of opportunities by not listening to his ideas... He was affirmative that he would be a passive bystander in all future meetings and pacified himself by saying that only intelligent folks will be able to understand his ideas better...

My intentions were not to evaluate the merit of his ideas rather I was more curious to know what was happening in his brain and what was he thinking

Two things that stood out in the conversations:
a. Emotions during the conversation swayed from anxiety to confidence or should I say false notion of confidence
b. When faced with an emotional constraint how the brain decided to handle it... Passive bystander

I will try and explore the first point in this blog... How did the emotions move from one extreme to another...? When confronted by a troubling situation, a network of neurons becomes active and produces distress. In this situation the brain starts to do something called as motivated reasoning or some kind of faulty reasoning to alleviate the distress. Dr.Drew Westen of Emory University quotes from his research “Neural circuits charged with regulation of emotional states seemed to recruit beliefs that eliminated the stress and conflicts". The surprising part is that not only does the brain works hard to reduce the distress but goes one step forward to make the person feel good by giving positive reinforcements to their biased reasoning.

In this case, my friend was able to present so called "logical reasoning" as to why his ideas were correct and further went to on state that the team were not intelligent enough to appreciate his ideas. This explains why the pendulum moved from anxiety to confidence.

When faced with this kind of situations it is prudent to Relax, breathe easy and come of the situation before you start analyzing the situation to take decisions or form opinions.

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1 comment:

Ramani said...

Very interesting read..