The day after I again read Social Intelligence and the Biology of Leadership by Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis I met with Morgan and Jess*, two contacts in my professional network.
This 2008 HBR article discusses the emerging field of social neuroscience and how it relates to effective leadership. The idea is that certain interpersonal competencies can facilitate individual minds becoming “fused into a single system“. One way this happens is via mirror neurons, located throughout the brain which mirror or mimic others. Mirroring happens subconsciously and often goes unnoticed.
From Wikipedia: “The activation of mirror neurons takes place within the individual who begins to mirror another’s movements, and allows them a greater connection and understanding with the individual who they are mirroring, as well as allowing the individual who is being mirrored to feel a stronger connection with the other individual.”
Pretty cool, huh? It is easy to understand how creating stronger connection and shared experience would facilitate leader effectiveness but it also is relevant to other social interactions.
Back to those meetings with Morgan and Jess, neither of whom are clients nor potential clients. Both meetings were initiated by them and the two are also close in age. Here’s what happened:
During the meeting with Morgan there was no mirroring. I felt awkward and uncomfortable chatting with but mostly listening to this person and was ready for the meeting to end early on. Although we’ve known each other for several years, M knew very little about me but was more interested in talking than learning that day. Driving home I thought, OMG, Morgan is clueless. Some of the ideas in this recent Adam Grant oped could really help.
A few hours later I met with Jess and noticed over and over how we mirrored each others’ physical posture. Without realizing I had done so my arms and hands would be the mirror image of J’s so I would rearrange and see my posture mirrored in the next few minutes. Jess knew about me and my business and asked some very informed questions. J shared interesting bits about their life and work. I left thinking “What an awesome person – I will happily support them in their work and career however I can.”
I was tuned into mirroring because of ideas from the article which also suggests: “Great leaders are those whose behavior powerfully leverages the system of brain interconnectedness. We place them on the opposite end of the neural continuum from people with serious social disorders, such as autism or Asperger’s syndrome, that are characterized by underdevelopment in the areas of the brain associated with social interactions.”
I don’t think Morgan is autistic or has Asperger’s but is probably in the middle or maybe just a bit to the low end of that continuum. I felt no interconnectedness during our meeting nor was I inspired to help M in any way. Jess on the other hand, is definitely on the high end.
One final thought from the article: “Leading effectively is…less about mastering situations or even social skill sets—than about developing a genuine interest in and talent for fostering positive feelings in the people whose cooperation and support you need.” Whether it’s a leadership situation or just a professional encounter, understanding how to achieve greater levels of brain interconnectedness is important.
Mirroring is part of a larger construct called Social Intelligence. For more on this, check out the MOOC called Inspiring Leadership Through Emotional Intelligence which is taught by Richard Boyatzis, one of the authors of the article. I did this course a few years ago, thought it was excellent, and highly recommend.
How have you noticed mirroring in your social interactions? Does it enhance interconnectedness? Would love to know your thoughts. Share them in the comments section below.
*not their real names