Our Neural Networks Don’t Have to be Rivals.

In times like these, we are all stressed, fearful, and worried for ourselves and others. Our people are concerned about their jobs and providing for their families. More globally, we are all concerned about the nation’s health and well-being. As a manager, you must persevere in managing budgets, sales targets, and the thousands of other decisions that keep your organization alive. All the while, you must attend to the needs, fears, and concerns of your people. It is a precarious balance to strike because the personal and practical sides of every interaction require us to activate distinct parts of our brain.

Sometimes we can get stuck in one or the other neural network, either the practical task-focused side or the other network that helps us reflect, empathize, and build social connections. It is a powerful leadership skill to be able to call on both parts of our brains as needed, to understand your people and their challenges and to relate to their values, attitudes, needs, and expectations.

Good leaders check for understanding of the others’ perspectives and listen empatheticallyGood leaders check for understanding of the others’ perspectives and listen empathetically to their thoughts, feelings, and motivations. Research by Anthony Jack at Case Western Reserve University describes the analytic network (AN), and the empathic network (EN). The AN is needed for the practical side, and the EN is crucial for taking care of the personal side of every interaction.

What we are learning now is that these two networks are mutually exclusive to a large extent. In other words, they actually suppress each other. When one is switched on, the other is off. The researchers contend that good leaders can toggle back and forth between the practical and the personal at electron speed. They also believe that the “toggling” skill can be developed through self-awareness, thoughtful practice, and conscious effort.

Learn to “toggle” between the personal and practical in every interaction by…

Learn to toggle between the personal and practical in every interactionReflect on and be mindful of which neural network is dominant for you. Ask yourself regularly, “What is the nature of my thoughts right now?” “Am I focussed on data, planning, problem-solving — my analytical network? Or am I aware of the emotions around me and thinking creatively?” Your dominant mode of thought is the one in which you feel most at home and in which you spend the most time. Knowing your DiSC® style can help you quickly understand your dominant mode.

Exercise the neural network that is your lesser-used one. This is simply a question of consciously spending mental energy on either the personal or practical side. It is like making yourself use your left hand for repetitive tasks normally done with your right. So, for example, to become more adept on the personal side of interactions, plan to take part in at least one short interaction per day in which your main objective is to understand the other person’s worldview. Carefully observe and mirror the other’s body language to build unconscious empathy while verbalizing your assumptions about the other’s motivations and checking their validity. Most important, remember to use the five leadership skills for effective 1-to-1s…


Use leadership skills for effective 1 to 1s1. Positivity: Compliment efforts and thinking, not just achievements, and be sure to maintain their self-esteem as a minimum.

2. Empathic listening: Use phrases such as “So, what you are saying is…” or “OK, let me see if I’ve got this right…”
3. Encourage engagement: Ask open questions like “How do you feel about that?” or “What ideas do you have in this situation?”
4. Share experience: Build trust by telling people what YOU think and feel, and your rationale for them.
5. Support without micromanaging: “So what do you need from me?” is one of the most motivational questions a leader can ask.


To exercise practical skills in your analytic network, envisage every interaction as a journey with a minimum of five checkpoints. Checkpoint one is the opening where you state the purpose(s) of the upcoming conversation. The next three checkpoints are cycled through for each discrete discussion topic; first, gather and share all the relevant information and data, then build ideas and thoughts about the topic before agreeing and summarizing who is going to do what by when. Checkpoint five is when you’ve ticked all your discussion boxes and closed on a positive note, always remembering to set a date for the next interaction.

The practical/analytic neural network is in a constant battle with your personal/ empathic network. Good leadership requires you to consciously reconcile them both. Learning and becoming aware of which network is dominating at each point in a discussion enables you to smoothly toggle back and forth for outstanding personal productivity.

For support and advice on any of these topics, please call PBC today for a free consultation. We’re only too glad to help.

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