Have you ever had a conversation that was quickly going nowhere?
Of course, you have. It’s part of life.
But does it have to be?
To some extent, maybe. But you can dramatically increase your ability for engagement – no matter who you’re talking to or what their personality is like.
So how do we know this? In an effort to figure this out, we spoke to top coaching expert and author Michael Bungay Stanier, the author of The Coaching Habit and TheAdvice Trap: Be humble, Stay Curious & Change The Way You Lead Forever (which is set to be published on February 29).
Bungay Stanier is the founder of Box of Crayons, which helps organizations like Microsoft, Salesforce, Gucci, and TELUS become coaches or “more coach-like,” often speaking to crowds of 10 to 10,000 people.
“Managers are generally not that great at asking questions. We teach them to stay curious a little bit longer and rush into action and advice-giving a bit more slowly,”Bungay Stanier explained.
The next thing Bungay Stanier told us is that our brains are programmed to be pessimistic (we had a feeling that was the case!), constantly scanning the world for reasons to worry.
Not to worry (get it?). It turns out there’s a way out of this maze, at least in the context of conversations.
The answer lies in the four drivers the brain uses to assess how safe any situation is, or TERA.
TERA stands for tribe, expectation, rank, and autonomy. You want to show the person you’re talking to you’re actively curious about who they are and what’s going on in their life.
Asking questions about what they’re learning and experiencing sets up a dynamic where you’re not trying to fix each other.
How is this related to neuroscience, though?
Curiously, the starting point is just to know our brains are constantly scanning situations for danger. “It’s just how the brain works,” Bungay Stanier said.
“The primitive brain is just about survival. It’s the part of the brain we want to work on to just not actively sit there and listen to its demands. We want to make the other person’s lizard brain feel safe.”
But how do we do that? Here’s the breakdown:
- T: The tribe brain is going, “Are you with me or against me?” You need to do what you can to make the other person feel you’re on their side and like you’re figuring things out together.
- E: Expectations is the brain going, “Do I know what’s about to happen or not?” If the answer is yes, the person automatically feels safer. Details help people feel in control.
- R: Rank is for the brain nagging, “Are you more or less important than me?” People feel better when they feel their opinions are asked for and listened to. Curious, isn’t it? Advice, on the other hand, single-handedly increases the TERA quotient. In fact, it’s a minefield. But you already knew that.
- A: Which brings us to the fourth and final TERA component: autonomy. To put this into context, your person’s brain is unequivocally going, “Am I making my own choices right now?” Help your person generate their own ideas. More ideas, less defensive.
According to Bungay Stanier, increasing the TERA quotient dampens the fight or flight response. Even simply sitting next to the person makes a big difference (tribe and rank, anyone?)
“It feels more tribe-like,”Bungay Stanier said. “Don’t start with I’m going to give you feedback. It doesn’t work. Details calm people down. Ask more questions to increase the TERA quotient.”
As for how this will help you get ahead in your career, there’s no exact science. “It’s a muscle. It makes you better with people, a better leader, it helps your team be more successful,” Stanier explained.
“I think most of the time the more you can bring the whole person to work the better it is for you and the other person as well. See them as real human beings.”