Communication can be touchy to say the least in the era of Covid-19. The expression “take foot, put in mouth,” comes to mind. All of us can be too quick to retort with something we later regret. This blog tackles some tips for avoiding the “lizard brain.”
Research Shows . . .
That since scientist named the “limbic cortex” in 1954, it is often referred to as the “lizard brain.” This is because the limbic cortex is the virtual totality of what the lizard has for a brain, and it controls fight, flight, feeding, fear and freezing up. We humans have various parts to our brains; however, we often minimize what a huge role our limbic cortex/lizard brain plays in our lives. It’s the compulsion to eat that brownie you promised yourself you weren’t going to eat. Or, for a recovering person finding himself on autopilot driving to the liquor store to buy a six-pack. It’s what compels the smoker whose New Year resolution is to quit smoking . . . which she does for six weeks, and then starts again.
The lizard brain is also what drives us to say that one thing to that one person that we promised ourselves we would never say, or send that group email that is defensive, overly aggressive, or just plain inappropriate. In this era of covid-19, while giving into the fear or the fight, we are more likely to blurt out that hurtful remark, because we are giving into our fears, concerns about the future. In short, the uncertainty.
The book club decided to hold its monthly meeting over Zoom, and it’s your turn to facilitate the meeting. It’s the first online meeting and will last only one hour. In thinking through how to manage the group and to avoid people talking over one another, you send out a series of book club questions asking everyone to select one for discussion.
Several members object, making remarks such as “not interested,” “who do you think you are?” “I like the free-form discussion format,” “this is way too structured for me,” “you don’t have the authority to do this.” Sprinkled among those other comments come supportive remarks: “great idea,” “let’s give it a try,” “glad you thought about this,” and, “thanks for taking the time to think this through. Creative solution.”
Like many things in life, rather than focus on the positive comments, you react to the negative remarks, and are on the verge of retorting when you take the 15-second pause, which becomes extended into thinking about it “in the cool of the evening.” The lizard-brain retort that came to mind was “thanks for the support – not – most of you are rude. If someone else wants to take over, be my guest.”
Tips for Controlling the Lizard Brain in the Era of Covid-19:
- Take the “famous 15-second pause,” before responding, and if that isn’t long enough take the “think about it in the cool of the evening” break before speaking. After all, the communication can always take place later.
- If, after taking the time-out, it’s still unclear whether to give into the lizard-brain itch to send that email, ask a trusted advisor or advisors.
- If a communication will go forward, pick the right words, the right time and the right place.
Tip #1: Take the “Famous 15-Second Pause:”
This tip involves restraint and silence. It requires thinking first and communicating second. During the pause and while thinking, it requires self-reflection: does this really need to be communicated? Is it, or could it be perceived as hurtful? Is it, or could it be interpreted as starting a fight? If the decision can’t be made with the initial pause, think about it later, or “in the cool of the evening,” when you’ve had a chance to cool down.
This involves an internal struggle: fighting part of our natures – avoiding the immediate heart-stomping, blood pressure raising lizard brain response. Take a few deep breaths, and if you don’t already have one, develop a calming mantra, and repeat it once, twice, three times or more. Since we are now accustomed to singing to ourselves the happy birthday tune twice while handwashing, sing it while calming down. Last, one can always laugh at herself for having the thought, the urge, the impulse to blurt out that remark in the first place.
Tip #2: Ask a Trusted Advisor: What Would He or She Recommend?
All of us have someone in our lives who we trust implicitly to give us good advice: we know from experience that this person has our best interest at heart. The person could be a life-long friend, a relative, a professional or someone we admire and seems to have her or his lizard brain under check. If after we’ve thought about our intended communication long and hard, have waited a while and are still unsure whether to deliver it, call up the trusted advisor and seek her or his advice. Having done it myself (more times than I care to admit) over the years, my trusted advisors – I have two – always give me sage advice. And, I follow it.
In this case, our trusted advisors both counsel against the “lizard-brain” email; however, each thinks that developing a kinder, gentler communication would be in order. After a bit of “to and fro,” the following email is considered appropriate:
“Hi All: Thanks for all the comments – wow, lots of energy around the idea – both positive and negative. Sorry if I wasn’t clear about my thinking. I was hoping that with everyone selecting a question, we could ensure that all would participate, and have a more engaged discussion, given our hour-long time limit. I realize that not everyone is up for it; however, let’s give it a try. If it works, perhaps we’ll want to adopt the process going forward. If not, we don’t have to. Five members have already selected questions they’d like to address, specifically questions 1, 4, 5 and 14. If anyone else has a preference, let me know via return email. Of course, this is completely optional. And, if no one else selects a question, I’ll leave five minutes at the end for a round-robin for final thoughts.”
Tip #3: If a Communication will go Forward: Pick the Right Words, the Right Time, and the Right Place
After thoughtful consideration and reconsideration, and after seeking advice from a trusted advisor, or trusted advisors, the communication will go forward, word selection is key. Remember to:
- Apologize for failing to provide more detailed information up-front, if appropriate.
- Own the communication by using “I” statements (avoid “you” statements).
- Avoid reacting to the negative remarks directly. Acknowledge negative comments were made. However, comment only on the positive remarks.
Pick the right time. Remember that . . .
- Allow time to pass – that typically let’s heated reactions calm down.
- Communicate when the intended audience does not have competing matters to deal. This can exacerbate the matter. Communicate when the evening activities are ended, children are in bed, dishes washed, etc.
Pick the right place. Remember that . . .
- If it’s an in-person communication (doubtful for a while), or a Zoom group meeting, “praise in public; discipline (or offer critiques) in private.”
- If it’s a Zoom, GoToMeeting, FaceTime or the like, pick a restful environment – either in your home or outside, where possible.
It’s a wrap, so remember that we’re all experiencing uncertainty, if not stress, anger or fear, and that others are, too. Be forgiving of others and yourself, and keep your lizard-brain in check by following these three tips: Take the “famous 15-second pause,” before responding, and if that isn’t long enough take the “think about it in the cool of the evening” break before communicating. If, after taking the time-out, it’s still unclear whether giving into the itch to make that remark is appropriate, ask a trusted advisor or advisors. If a communication will go forward, pick the right words, the right time and the right place.
Be well, stay safe, and give an elbow-bump to those you meet!