Why Every Leader Needs to Know About Mirror Neurons

Woman with dark hair and eyes looking in a handheld mirror with whitish frame.
There's a scientific reason why other people's emotions affect us so strongly, and, as a leader, it's critical that you understand the reason: Mirror Neurons.

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Why Every Leader Needs to Know About Mirror Neurons

Have you ever noticed that one person’s bad mood can immediately change the dynamics in a meeting or conversation?

It’s incredible how fast the emotional charge in a situation can shift when someone experiencing very strong feelings enters the scene.

If you’ve experienced a shift in your energy because of someone else’s bad (or good) mood, it’s not your fault – well, not entirely.

That’s because human beings are wired for connection. We are biologically designed to work with others and be connected to them.

To help facilitate that, we have “mirror neurons” in our brains.

The function of mirror neurons is to identify the mood or emotional state of others and adapt to it. Literally, to “mirror” it. That’s why it’s so easy for someone else to bring you down.

As a leader, it’s critical that you are aware of other people’s emotional states. However, it’s equally, if not more, important that you don’t allow yourself to be shifted into that state – unless, of course, it’s a more desirable state than the one you’re in.

I’ve talked before about how we need to have three positive thoughts for every one negative thought to function at our highest level.

Well, guess what happens when your mirror neurons kick in? They put out messages to your brain to mimic or match the other person’s state so that you can better connect with them.

Yikes! The next thing you know your emotions have been hijacked!

So, how do you stop that from happening? Here are a few of the basic steps that you can take to avoid being emotionally hijacked by your mirror neurons.

  1. Awareness. Knowing about your mirror neurons and being prepared is half the battle, as they say. When you see someone in an angry, sad, or stressed-out state, you know that that mood has the potential to influence yours.
  2. Stop. Before engaging with him or her, take a few deep breaths, settle into your body, and become more aware of your own emotions.
  3. Watch your language. Don’t be pulled into negative talk. While having empathy and compassion (don’t make the other person wrong), you can gently steer the conversation onto more neutral or positive ground by keeping your language positive. In other words, don’t join the complaining or gossiping.
  4. Disengage if needed. Don’t forget that you have the right to walk away from a person who is angry, abusive, or unresponsive. If you feel that you can’t keep yourself in a good frame of mind, disengage. Tell the person that you’ll continue the conversation later but give yourself a chance to recover first.

Knowledge of how mirror neurons work has been a powerful tool for me. With my heightened awareness, I’m becoming more and more adept at recognizing when I’m in danger of being drawn into someone else’s negativity. I can keep a more positive perspective, be a better friend or colleague to them, and be happier in the meantime.

Fortunately, we have evolved and developed many other ways to stay connected with our fellow man besides mirror neurons. And while it’s awesome to catch someone else’s great mood and be buoyed by it, sinking into negativity doesn’t help us or the person that we’re connecting to.

This week, watch your mirror neurons in action. See where they help you… and where they may not be serving you.

PS – If you’d like to learn more about your mirror neurons and how to counter them, email me or book a consultation.

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