Many of the best brains in the business spend much of their days in meetings. So it’s important to create a brain-friendly meeting environment where all the minds present can work to their full potential.
Our research demonstrates that up to 30% of latent brain power gets lost during meetings. This prompted further investigation into what creates a meeting environment where everyone involved can do their best thinking. The Four Cs model can be applied to help organisations have meetings that reflect the way the human brain works.
How does the brain work?
The human brain evolved in three distinct phases and works from the bottom up:
- The base of the brain came from our earliest reptilian ancestors. It is largely in charge of the automatic functions that keep us alive, such as breathing and heart rate.
- The second part of the brain to develop was the limbic system. Sitting at the centre of the brain it is the seat of our predominantly primal survival emotions. It responds to our environment in under 85 milliseconds, deciding – before we can even think about it – whether we are safe or under threat. The limbic system will hijack our energetic resources to defend us if it feels we are at risk.
- The prefrontal cortex is the clever part of the brain and was the last to evolve by millions of years. It is where we do our rational thinking and needs to be active to ensure a productive meeting. The prefrontal cortex operates much more slowly than our limbic system, only starting to make sense of what we are experiencing in 250 milliseconds.
Because we respond emotionally before we engage rationally, people do their best thinking when they feel safe. Fear is the most activating emotion for the limbic system. Any lack of psychological or emotional safety and we are diverted away from thinking about what’s happening in the meeting. So the first and most important thing to do is ensure all people present feel safe and relaxed.
The first C: Connect
Begin your meetings by connecting with everyone in the room at a human level. How are people feeling? How can you make everyone feel comfortable and valued? This is vital because without connection you cannot think well together.
This connection process can take up to half an hour and will be the most valuable half an hour you spend. If this process isn’t practical, ask people to share a recent highlight related to the task in hand. A positive connection lights up the brain’s reward centres.
The second C: Compassion
Humans judge each other all the time. This is perfectly normal. We cannot switch it off but we can be conscious of it. Compassion is the ability to notice our judgements of others and suspend them in the moment.
Allow your fellow meeting members to express themselves and consciously withhold your judgement. This is possible even if you don’t like or agree with them. Because we are mammals and our emotional brain feels before our cortex thinks, we can feel when someone is being compassionate towards us. Our limbic system stands down and allows our prefrontal cortex to engage. A meeting leader can be explicit about this. Before a meeting begins ask participants to take a moment to notice their biases and judgements and put them gently to one side.
The third C: Curiosity
A lot of the time, rather than remaining open and curious about other points of view, people are merely waiting to put their own opinion across. This is a wasted opportunity – when the cortex detects genuine interest in what is being shared it switches on and people do their best thinking.
Be actively curious about why people hold their views and ask questions. Make sure that everyone in the room has the chance to offer their ideas, even if the topic is not their area of expertise. If there is someone in the meeting whose view you are not curious about, why are they in the meeting at all?
The final C: Control
Let people think freely by giving them control and not interrupting them. People who are in control while expressing themselves will feel freer to think and explore. When we know that someone is listening it allows good ideas to emerge without the pressure of trying to make our point.
As a meeting leader it’s important to take different styles into consideration. Extroverts might use more words and introverts might need more space and time to gather their thoughts.
Getting the best of all the brains
The Four Cs model works in line with the way our brains work. It is a simple framework for meetings that get participants into a place where they feel relaxed and safe, listened to and valued, and able to contribute the best of their thinking. With so much time spent in often unproductive meetings, it’s time to transform them with a new model.
Kate Lanz is a psychologist, leadership coach and CEO of Mindbridge