Ouch! You Excluded Me
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You are brought
into a room to play a computer game. On the screen you see your avatar,
a computerized graphic that represents you in this virtual environment.
You also spot the avatars for two other players,
both of whom you assume are physically located with their own computers
in similar rooms.
At first it is fun and easy – a simple
ball-tossing game over the Internet. Then about half way through the
game, you notice something odd. It seems as though the other players
are excluding you. In fact, soon they completely stop throwing the ball
to you and are interacting only with each other. You don’t
know why it’s happening, but you
know you are
Later you are told that there were no other
human players, only a software program designed to exclude the test
subject (you!) at some point. But even when you learn the truth, you
can’t shake the feeling of being snubbed. You still feel as if you were
left out of the game for some personal reason . . .
At least that is how you respond if you are
typical of the subjects in this experiment by social neuroscientists at
the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). The research
project was designed to make people experience rejection, and then to
find out what goes in the brain as a result.
Using functional magnetic resonance imaging
(fMRI) equipment, researchers tracked the blood flow in the brains of
“rejected” subjects and made a surprising discovery: When someone feels
excluded there is corresponding activity in the dorsal portion of the
anterior cingulate cortex — the neural region involved in the
“suffering” component of pain. In other words, they found that the
feeling of being excluded provokes the same sort of reaction in the
brain that physical pain might cause. It was also found that both
physical and emotional suffering respond positively to Tylenol.
For business leaders this research is
meaningful, as the experiment shows that it really doesn’t take much to
make people left out.
This finding is especially interesting to me as
an executive coach and body language expert. As I’ve often told
leaders, the nonverbal signals that make someone feel excluded or
unimportant are often slight: letting your gaze wander while he or she
is talking, leaning back, crossing your arms, or angling your torso
even a quarter turn away (in essence, giving someone “the cold
If you were my client, I’d also let you know
that an occasional lapse won’t demoralize your team. But if you are
continually off-handed, neglectful or unresponsive to certain
individuals, your nonverbal behavior could be seriously destructive to
the trust and collaboration you are seeking to foster.
I’ve seen how team spirit can disintegrate as
those individuals who feel that they are being discounted simply
withdraw. The sense of unease created by that withdrawal then
broadcasts itself subliminally (by a processes called “emotional
contagion”) to the whole group. And there goes the
leader’s hopes for high morale, collaboration, and productivity.
So think about the UCLA research the next time
you lead a meeting. Realize that when you appear to play favorites by
using more positive nonverbal signals -- smiles, eye contact, forward
leans, etc. -- with some people than with others or when your body
language actually excludes some individuals, those behaviors can result
in “hurt” feelings that are, actually, painful.
If all else
fails – remember to pass around the Tylenol.
About the Author
Kinsey Goman, Ph.D.is an international
Keynote speaker on collaborative leadership and the impact of
language in the workplace.
coach to executives to improve their leadership presence and
Leadership blogger for Forbes and author of "The Silent Language of
Leaders: How Body Language Can Help - or Hurt - How You Lead.”
Carol@CarolKinseyGoman.com Authors Google+
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Article Published/Sorted/Amended on Scopulus 2011-01-13 17:48:53 in Personal Articles