Communication Strategies

This Entrepreneur's Simple Brain Hacks Will Make You More Effective in Dealing With Awful People and Situations

Control your reactions to control your future.
This Entrepreneur's Simple Brain Hacks Will Make You More Effective in Dealing With Awful People and Situations
Image credit: Jordan Matter
Entrepreneur Staff
4 min read

How Success Happens is a podcast featuring polar explorers, authors, ultra marathoners, artists and more to better understand what connects dreaming and doing. Linda Lacina, Entrepreneur.com's managing editor, guides these chats so anyone can understand the traits that underpin achievement and what fuels the decisions to push us forward. Listen below or click here to read more shownotes.

Ever notice when you’re in a foul mood everyone seems like a jerk? Or when you run into someone you already dislike, you can’t help but find more reasons to dislike the person?

We all have reactions like these every day -- even if we don’t realize it. And they don’t just make it harder to feel happy, they also get in the way of our goals.

Related: Podcast: When PowerPoints Weren't Working, This Powerful Exec Passed Out Comic Books Instead

Economist and management consultant Caroline Webb has studied how the brain processes these reactions in an effort to better understand why we do the the things we do -- and how we can be more effective.

After 12 years at McKinsey helping executives run better companies, she become an entrepreneur, founding Sevenshift, a company that helps leaders use behavioral science to boost their effectiveness and productivity.

She has packed many of these strategies into her book How To Have a Good Day: Harness the Power of Behavioral Science to Transform Your Working Life, a sort of manual for your head, packed with science-based shortcuts that are applicable for anyone.

At the heart of improving our days, according to Webb, is improving our reactions. Too often, we let the day happen to us. “If we’re just more deliberate, much more becomes possible,” she says on this week’s episode of How Success Happens.

In being reactive also, we often don’t fully understand anything but how we feel about a topic or situation. Our emotions can cloud our experiences and our own biases, and pre-occupations can make it difficult to see all the choices before us.

She adds that we are hardwired to look for threats in our environment, and our primal instincts that helped us defend against a sabre tooth tiger in caveman days are activated when we feel criticized, excluded or disrespected.

“When you think about the office, if you’re left off an email chain, that can trigger a sense of threat,” says Webb. “If you’re talked over in a meeting, that can be a sense of threat.”

To sidestep these hard-wired defensives, we can take a moment to think differently and get into the discovery mode that leads to new ideas and creativity. So, if you are in a foul mood or on a hellish commute, she suggests you take a moment to look for three good things about that situation. This strategy works the brain’s selective attention mechanism, ensuring what you’ll see next will be more positive.

Related: Kathryn Minshew of The Muse: Decide Who You Are, or Have it Decided for You (Podcast)

Or if you’re about to meet with someone at work you don’t like, she suggests making an effort to find ways you can be productive.

“Taking that moment to put better things top of mind is probably the deepest brain hack,” says Webb. “I’m not saying that standing in front a mirror saying ‘everything is awesome’ will make things awesome. I’m saying we have a lot more control than we think.”

Related: Conversation is the Most Underused Innovation Tool

Ultimately, she suggests you try a people-sided approach. Asking someone’s advice or telling them a story about how your idea will work for them will get people engaged and excited. That strategy will also help you get away from solutions that only can you see and the fallacy that there’s only one brilliant idea.

It’s not just a nice thing to do; it’s how ideas move forward, says Webb.

To hear more about her growth hacks and insights into behavioral science, check out our latest episode of How Success Happens below. Or to subscribe to this podcast,  find us on the following platforms: SoundCloud, Stitcher, iTunes, Google Play.

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