Rome in the rain, happy eyes and feeding the amygdala with security.
We were in Rome a few weeks ago. The rain was pouring down and in the middle of the crowds waiting for the guided tour of Vatican City, vendors appeared who wanted to sell guided tours. One of them was particularly nice and we started chatting under the umbrella. He looked at us with his happy, kind eyes and talked about the essence of sales. It's really about selling yourself first, he said with a laugh, and if you can do that, you can actually sell anything afterwards! The image and message from the meeting has stuck with me. Not that the message was particularly new, perhaps, but he made such a strong impression. Yes, he really managed to sell himself. Another sales training blog? Yes, in a way. But there was something else I was struck by, the eyes and what they were doing.
"Then comes Mother Teresa, who has her own dress code in this context. She is small on stage but still takes up a lot of space. No Powerpoint. No flipchart. She stands there and looks out over the audience for a while. It is completely silent."
A history of Mother Teresa
There is a story about Mother Teresa (Christian humanist from Macedonia, canonised by the Pope and an amazing woman who dedicated her life to working for peace and against poverty). The story (which I don't know if it's true but it's good anyway) is about Mother Teresa visiting the World Economic Forum in Davos. There is the world's power elite (mostly black suits I imagine). There is talk of leadership. There is talk of change. There is talk of economic growth. It's wise and smart and scientific. Lots of words. Many slides. Then comes Mother Teresa, who has her very own dress code in this context. She is small on stage but still takes up a lot of space. No Powerpoint. No flipchart. She stands there and looks out over the audience for a while. It is completely silent. Then she says, "Do you know your people?" Long pause. "Do you love them?" Then she leaves the stage. A murmur in the audience. Or maybe more of a sigh, I imagine, an exhalation of the relief of seeing the most important thing that is always there within and around us.
"Many people don't think about it, but performance is about calmness, relaxation and joy."
We are made for contact, we have a strong ability to connect with others. For us as pack animals, this has always been crucial to our lives. When we feel included and loved, something happens to us. We can relax, become soft and curious about each other and ourselves. When we meet without having to compete, without having to be questioned, without suspicion. Being met by kind, warm, happy and curious eyes, it is in such an environment that we can perform really well. Many people don't think about it, but performance has to do with calmness, relaxation and joy. Every athlete knows that when we tense our bodies and minds and become hard, when we put our jaws in tension and struggle for breath, our performance deteriorates considerably. Studies show that what improves performance is when the effort is instead associated with joy. In that state, we are more gentle and curious. In that state there is innovation, creativity and collaboration. And empathy.
Feed the amygdala with security
Many organisations have a culture, an environment where biting the bullet, fighting and competing are commonplace. Where you are met with eyes that are neither particularly warm, kind or happy. In such organisations, performance suffers, especially in the long term. And there is little job satisfaction. Let's look at how the brain works. In the limbic system of the brain, there are two almond-shaped parts, the amygdala, located on either side of the temporal lobes. In simple terms, the amygdala is tasked with sorting out impressions of danger or safety. They are particularly attuned to reading eyes and facial expressions. They then signal to the body in an ingenious system to flee, fight, freeze or play dead or to feel safe, i.e. a feeling of being soft, calm and curious. As you probably realise, the feeling of security is crucial for feeling good and performing well.
"Many organisations have a culture, an environment where biting the bullet, struggling and competing are commonplace. Where you are met with eyes that are neither particularly warm, kind or happy. In such organisations, performance suffers, especially in the long term."
"Feed the amygdala with security!" We say this to the management team, to leaders, to all team members. It applies to yourself, it applies to those you meet, colleagues and customers. Having tools to calm and regulate your own nervous system is important. That you endeavour to meet customers and colleagues with cheerful eyes. That in a workplace we can let go of ourselves for a while and become genuinely curious about each other and that we show that we like our colleagues. Important - If you are in a workplace that feeds your and others' amygdala with danger, you need to think about how you can help yourself to be safer. How can you become more of who you want to be? How can you become more soft, calm and curious? If you are in a particularly difficult environment, try changing jobs and take care of yourself.
Do a Mother Teresa often, several times a day. Get to know your workmates. Show that you care about them. Put on your cheerful eyes. You'll feed the amygdala with reassurance. It will boost your performance and yours. A sustainable performance with job satisfaction, creativity and willingness to change as key ingredients. At best, it will make your workplace a better place to be.