Words Can Change Your Brain Book Review

Published on
March 15, 2018
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Communication is a cornerstone of effective leadership. BetterManager believes that, like any other leadership skills, how to communicate effectively can be learned.

In their book “Words Can Change Your Brain”, neuroscientist Andrew Newberg, M.D. and Mark Waldman present a communication model, they call “Compassionate Communication” and suggest that most of us are poor at it:

“Although we are born with the gift of language, research shows that we are surprisingly unskilled when it comes to communicating with others. We often choose our words without thought, oblivious to the emotional effects they can have on others. We talk more than we need to.”

Within the “compassionate communication” model, the authors advocate for equally involving the two sides of our brain: the thinking and feeling parts of our brain — or as the authors of Switch call them: the Directing the Rider (Thinking) and Motivating the Elephant (Emotions). Conversing over a long period of time using “compassionate communication” creates a neural resonance between the conversing individuals. And when resonance happens, more opportunities for cooperation naturally emerge.

“Compassionate Communication” actually changes our brain structure – as well as the brain of the person we are talking to – in a way that helps establish a bond between two people.

They state there are 12 steps by which to become compassionate communicators:

  1. Adopting a more relaxed attitude
  2. Being more present during a conversation
  3. Cultivating inner silence
  4. Increasing our positive mentality
  5. Reflecting on our deepest values (or purpose)
  6. Accessing pleasant memories (in order for positive facial expressions to emerge)
  7. Observing nonverbal cues in others
  8. Expressing appreciation
  9. Speaking warmly
  10. Speaking slowly: to give the listener the possibility to process the information, and with pauses to give the listener the possibility to interrupt
  11. Speaking briefly: a listener will tune out after more than 30 secs
  12. Listening deeply

Managers/leaders need to be able to speak to both the emotional and thinking brains.

These 12 steps of compassionate communication echo BetterManager’s 12 key behaviors of effective leadership. These behaviors and communication skills can be learned. And we believe coaching provides a context to practice compassionate communication.  


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