Is success in the UAE all in the mind?

Neuroscience studies of the brain are leading to insights about the way we think, act and react. Triptta Neb, director of Conscious Leadership Consulting & Coaching, is taking this knowledge and delivering insights of her own about how they can have a positive effect on organisational leadership and management in the Middle East.

The Indian expat, 44, based in Dubai for 19 years, will see her company deliver its first leadership training workshop in the UAE on March 18. She believes it will mark the region’s premier foray into the world of organisational development seen through a lens of neuroscience, revealing how it can determine and inform what motivates employees.

What is the field of neuroscience all about?

It’s about understanding the brain. While it sounds simple, it’s a vast topic. What’s really relevant though is that the functioning of our brain controls our behaviours, so the more we understand how the cognitive processes and social processes of our brain work, the better we’re able to translate that into everyday life.

How does our brain control our behaviour?

There are lots of different chemicals that are released into the brain and it is those that actually cause certain behaviour patterns. There are five or six very common chemicals that a lot of us know – adrenalin, serotonin, dopamine etc – but the important thing to understand from an organisational perspective and a community perspective is that the release of chemicals into our brain controls our behaviour and determines whether we have an automatic reaction or a thought-out response. We have two brains in our head: an emotional thinking brain and the rational brain. If the emotional brain is triggered it will instantly release a chemical and then we are not being responsive, we are being reactive. If you are stressed, your emotional brain releases a chemical and you just react to that situation; you actually have no control over it. The simplest example: if you’ve been walking down a dark street and you see something move your reaction is first to jump and then look back. You’ve acted first and analysed later.

How has the understanding of neuroscience developed?

In the last five years there have been some critical breakthroughs. For example, a human being’s absolute first motivation is to have a sense of belonging. That sense of belonging isn’t about status: you belong to a team, group or tribe and the minute you feel you are being ostracised from that group the same section of the brain is activated as if you were experiencing pain. Naturally we don’t want to go through pain. Either I will change my behaviour to do whatever it takes to fit into the group, or I will leave the company. These are the only two things that I will do. So not only do we have to help people fit in, this changes all the motivation theories that anyone ever spoke about. We are saying now that, more than money, being a part of a team, or being able to relate to a team and have a sense of belonging, is far more important, because of the way our brain is wired.

How can this knowledge be applied in the workplace?

What we have successfully seen is that if you approach organisational development and leadership in a certain manner, then it helps you to manage your chemical reaction, it helps your emotional brain. It creates a lot more awareness about your own brain and what triggers you. If we can train leaders to create an environment that does not trigger their team members’ [emotional reactions] you’ve now got a healthy environment, a motivated environment, and you’ve also got an environment where individuals are actually using the rational brain, not the emotional brain, which allows them to solve complex problems.

How do you teach people to change the way they react?

There is an awareness phase and there has to be a conscious coaching and conscious application that needs to take place, so you can form those new neural pathways. You’ve spent your entire life being the way you are, it won’t change overnight, so there’s an awareness phase and an application phase and a development phase.

What are the benefits?

A level of mastery helps you really manage your own self completely. You learn to identify your different triggers and find you deal with those triggers a lot better. You are more focused on being congenial and solving problems. Not only that, you are actually healthier because when the emotional brain gets triggered you are creating a chemical imbalance that can lead to stress-related diseases. When things don’t fluster you that easily you can start thinking rationally about your team and your organisation.

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