The Chemistry of Conversations

How to Have More Positive Interactions at Work

Think back to the last time you received negative feedback at work. How did it affect you? How long did it affect you? Now, think about the last time you received positive feedback. How did it affect you? How long did it affect you?

Was it harder to remember the details of the positive interaction compared to the negative? If so, you’re not alone. In fact, your brain’s tendency to internalize and maybe even obsess over negative experiences or comments is backed by science — neurochemistry to be exact.

According to this scientific research, negative interactions, like criticism, rejection or fear, increase your body’s cortisol production. Higher cortisol production causes the thinking center of our brains to shut down making us more reactive and emotional — effects that can last for days and influence our future behavior.

Positive interactions, however, produce a spike in oxytocin activating networks in our prefrontal cortex that elevate our ability to collaborate, communicate and trust others. Unlike cortisol, oxytocin’s effects are much less dramatic and sustainable.

This phenomenon has been referred to as the “chemistry of conversations” and can have a major impact on your business. If leaders are constantly exhibiting cortisol-producing behaviors, the negative effect on your workers can hinder productivity and confidence. The best way to avoid this is to be mindful of the conversations you’re having and how you’re relaying sensitive information. This isn’t to say that you should stop critiquing or (constructively) criticizing your employees or co-workers all together, just make sure you’re delivering feedback in a supportive fashion.

Here are three tips for doing this:

  1. Be aware of the underlying messages in your conversations. Sometimes it’s not what you say but how you say it that has a bigger impact.
  2. Remember that conversations trigger emotions. If the content of your message is negative, how can you deliver it in a way that makes the other person walk away from your conversation feeling hopeful or inspired?
  3. Choose your words carefully. Conversations can get heated and cause us to say things we may regret later. It’s best to prepare your thoughts beforehand and not let your emotions get the best of you in the moment.


The Bottom Line

Our brains are powerful engines that can cause us to act or feel without even thinking. The different hormones that are released during negative and positive engagements have lasting impacts on our mood, self-esteem and decision-making process. By being mindful of how we engage with others, we can have more meaningful conversations, create deeper relationships and, most importantly, feel better about ourselves!