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Brain Networks: Tune In, Turn On

Analytical vs. emotional strengths: how do you flip the switch?

In our recent conversations with leaders across a range of sectors, the question of balance looms large.

How to stay connected to the needs, fears and concerns of team members, for instance, while managing your own approaches to a shifting environment at the same time.

How to balance the business needs that demand solutions to pressing problems, alongside critical future-focused decisions and directions.

What transcends current urgency, though, is the degree to which these questions are relevant at any time, not just during crises.

And, as a connected thought, should we examine the idea that balanced leadership must somehow involve doing more, with multitasking as a default state?

What if the best approach is the exact opposite: “separate tasking”?

Brain balance

This notion of anti-multitasking is the premise of a recent Harvard Business Review article that assesses the brain’s ability to balance different types of activity.

The HBR article suggests that leaders can get stuck in the wrong “brain zone” when trying to manage competing emotional or analytical demands:

“The challenge is that these two things require us to activate different parts of our brain. And, we can sometimes get stuck in either the network in our brain that enables task-focused attention needed to solve problems, or in the other network that facilitates reflection, compassion, and social connection.

This article, The Best Managers Balance Analytical and Emotional Intelligence, takes cues from new neuroimaging studies to describe two brain “networks”: the analytic and the empathic.

The analytic network (AN) works to solve problems and make decisions involving abstraction, information and analytical thinking. The empathic network (EN) is about people and environment; managing new ideas, relationships and qualitative information.

And, most importantly, the AN and EN are not just opposed: they suppress each other.

Quite literally, you can’t do these two things at the same time.

Train your brain

HBR suggests that the most effective leaders are those who are able to switch fluidly between their AN and EN networks.

This switching ability can be shaped and developed – not via exhaustive research, but through regular day-to-day interaction and routine.

Most leaders will already have a sense of their go-to type of thinking. Do you lean toward concrete facts and details first, or creative possibilities?

With an awareness of your default network as a starting point, simple cues can help to exercise your switching ability.

If you tend toward analytical approaches, create a reminder for yourself: just ask a people-focused question first.

And if your natural response style is empathic, you might use the opposite cue. Ask first about a planning or financial aspect of the situation at hand.

By developing and applying an active response habit, you will be switching brain networks automatically and effortlessly.

And with this versatility, you won’t need to have more than one running at a time!

Switch your network

Are you motivated to learn more about flipping your brain’s switches?

Can leadership coaching help you to understand how your own brain networks interact, and how this may be influencing your team interactions and your decision-making?

Or can coaching help you create new ways to manage your in-the-moment responses to situations and challenges?

Give us a call, and we can help you tune in.

Jill Roussy and Wendy Shaw are coaches, consultants, mentors and facilitators with extensive experience in large corporate environments as well as entrepreneurial settings. Together Jill and Wendy co-founded Spark Ideas Inc in 2003.  Spark exists to help people, teams and brands thrive. 

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