Tuesday, April 19, 2005

The Two D's and the Two L's

I'm starting to discover - finally - why we have so much trouble with effective communication. It really has very little to do with our intention and much more to do with our biology.

People respond to anything they don't know with defensiveness. It becomes a physical response. You can see it in their posture and the set of their jaw. And it all goes back to that reptilian brain way inside our heads.

The reptilian brain is the oldest part of our brain, that part that gives us that fight-or-flight response to anything new or unexpected. That part of us is rigid, obsessive, compulsive and paranoid. It is the part of our brain that keeps repeating past behaviors, and doesn't learn from them.

Thankfully we do have two other more evolved brains in our heads: the limbic system, or the middle part of the brain, and the neocortex, or the most highly developed outer part of the brain. In terms of size, the neocortex makes up more than two-thirds of the entire brain. So why is it that the smallest and most primitive portion of our brain is often the one that takes over? Shouldn't we be able to override that instinct with our intellect?

Is it any wonder we humans get defensive in our communication style when faced with new information or unfamiliar subject matter or, worse yet, new emotional ground? We don't know how to listen because we're too busy defending. We're in survival mode and we don't know any better because we haven't practiced anything else.

What if you changed the rules for yourself and didn't get defensive when you heard something that went against your initial beliefs? What if you changed the rules of your game and didn't make it wrong that people get defensive?

We're humans, not reptiles. We have every opportunity and every responsibility to let our neocortex in on our communication. What if, as Jerry Hirschberg of the Nissan Corporation once said, we fight the 2 D's in our communication (Defensiveness and Debating) with the 2 L's (Listening and Learning)?

I'm confident that noticing which of our brains is responding to new information in a communication setting will start alerting us to new, more effective habits in our behaviors.


At 8:53 AM, Blogger Christopher Bailey said...

Jodee, I really like what you suggest about not returning defensiveness with more defensiveness. It's difficult, but seems like it would make a huge difference in breaking the cycle of deteriorating communication.

Not making the initial defensiveness of other people wrong; instead, getting curious about why they are defensive in the first place is a beginning point of dialogue.

I realize I have some places in my life where I need to make this happen more. Thanks for the caring nudge.

At 10:42 PM, Blogger Jodee said...


As always, your comments continue to reinforce my belief that what you and I are doing is making a difference. As we recognize and alter our own behaviors, we automatically allow others to practice their own authenticity. I'm learning every day that I have to be the change I wish to see in the world (Ghandi quote). That's the only way things will start to shift.

Thanks for your continued support and for being who you are in the world!

At 7:54 PM, Blogger Bruce said...

Hi Jodee,
I haven't logged my thoughts lately, but trust me, I've been lurking.
Breaking the cycle of defensive communication and behavior is a very necessary skill in sales. Most of the time, I simply ask "why?". Whether I ask it of myself or someone else, that short unexpected pause caused by the need for a thoughtful response is usually all it takes to repress the primitive urge to blow a small problem out of proportion.
I think highly competitive people have the most difficulty with mentally stepping out of a situation long enough for the higher brain to take control.
Does this make any sense??

At 4:26 PM, Blogger Jodee said...

Absolutely, Bruce. It reminds me of a trick I learned from my life coach a couple of years ago - it's the acronym WAIT: Why Am I Talking?

If we can take a breath during a conversation and ask ourselves that question, it might be just the reframing we need!

Thanks for "lurking!"


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