Adaptas is a Leadership Development Training organisation, developing managers and leaders and teams, in Ireland and Internationally.
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Transcript from Episode 102: “Maximizing Brain Potential for Learning and Change” with Dr. Celine Mullins
Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into education in the corporate environment?
I used to say that I was a psychologist by day and an actress by night for many years. At a certain point, about 12 years ago, I had a conversation at a dinner party which made me realize that a lot of the things that I was doing during the days and the evenings were tied together in ways that I hadn’t thought about and that I could bring a lot of my skills, my knowledge, my experience into a corporate setting. I literally went home that night, I wrote a business plan plus a plan for a website. Within a few days I had the whole thing set up and going, and went on to register the business. That was the first version of the business.
From a young age, I was always fascinated with human behavior and when I was a teenager I was very, very shy. I got into drama and acting as a way to build my own confidence and then when I went to university I was very lucky to be going to university but did not know what I really wanted to study. The problem was I was interested in everything.
I decided to do arts because I thought that for sure there are loads of things here I can explore and then if I don’t like that and move on something else. I went to all sorts of different lectures and went along to some psychology lecturers and fell in love with it. I thought “This is amazing and this is going to help me understand human beings once and for all.” But psychology degree doesn’t really help you understand human, sadly.
At that point 12 years ago, I realized how the acting in the theatre and the filmmaking was really all about human behavior and story. Then you have the psychology is very much about the human, the study of human behavior. So, bringing them together and I literally started letting people know what I was doing which was to look at bringing these combinations of tools and techniques from psychology and from theatre and filmmaking into organizations to help people get to know themselves better and to help teams work together more effectively. Then over the years it evolved, evolved, evolved and now it’s still evolving actually 12 years later.
The focus of our business is evolving and most of our energy is spent. When I say “our”, I mean that we have a team and there is a team of associates that work with us, as well. A lot of our time is spent on working with groups and with teams around helping people to get to know themselves better, to lead themselves first and then to lead others.
From my perspective, you cannot really lead other people effectively until you really have your own certain level of self-awareness around how you think. You’ve got to be able to flex your style to different people, different situations, and different personalities and also the pace of which the world is moving now, you got to be able to flex your style, to be able to adapt and to think differently. For me, it’s that fascination with us as human beings and self-awareness.
How can we develop ourselves, our skills and how can we improve our communication skills to strengthen different relationships in our lives?
I often find that when we’re working with people, sometimes we are working one-to-one, sometimes working as groups and teams. People often come to work thinking “I need to be one person at work and I need to be another type of person at home” and I’m not saying this is the case for everybody but I do see that a lot. Often people feel like they need to leave their authentic self behind, park it at the door and come in and do the day job.
Then pick up themselves when they go back outside the door. So many of the issues that I see in organizations, whether an organization is doing really well or an organization is it having issues, generally there are always underlined problems with communication. Because once you start to communicate with another human being, there is the opportunity for misunderstanding. When you add a third person into the mix, there’s the exponential opportunity for misunderstanding.
Then when you have big teams of people working together and then you have people working cross-functionally, and there are all sorts of different stakeholders involved. There are just never-ending opportunities for people to misunderstand each other or to not create clarity in conversations. Also, to miss out on opportunities to communicate and it often leaves in too late to communicate what needs to be communicated.
The world that we live in which has such amazing technologies, so many different types of technologies and devices available to communicate but it feels to me like we’re getting further and further away from what communication is. When I see the companies who are doing really well and the companies who are struggling, any issues that exist, most of them come back to the basics of communication, the actual listening to each other, taking time to think about what we’re saying and thinking about the emotions and feelings that are being brought up in us and how we’re reacting to the situations around us.
When we leave ourselves of the door and we go into the workplace and then we collect herself on the way back out, I think a lot of the time people forget look we have emotions throughout the day, we have reactions. When we’re in a meeting and somebody’s suggests something like ”Let’s try this approach” and if they’re told “Oh no, no, no, we tried that before” they’re going to feel pushed back, they are potentially going to feel hurt or negated. Then, they’re less likely to offer up ideas in the future.
For me, it just comes back to sometimes the basics, respect, understanding ourselves, taking time, listening to each other and it’s also about asking more questions. Because as human beings, we find it so easy just to make assumptions, to re-create stories about everything that’s going on around us. We make statements and we think that we have to prove that we know it all instead of asking more questions. If we ask more questions than that opens up communication in lots of different ways.
Do you think that behavior like that is part of the corporate culture and have we changed our behaviors or have we learned to change our corporate behaviors as well?
We obviously have our own levels of confidence in ourselves depending on our background, experience, how we grew up and who we grew up with, who our teachers were and who our parents were. We all have different levels of confidence in ourselves and different levels of security in our own ideas.
Then in our professional lives, there’s the external corporate culture that is either welcoming and inviting of difference and diversity of ideas and then there are corporate cultures who have operated in a certain way for so many years that they’re very closed down to trying things a different way or they haven’t even recognized as a different way to do things.
What I noticed as my experience has evolved over the number of years is that I think that when I started doing all of this work, I was so interested in developing the human being, the person and their self-awareness, helping them to communicate more effectively, helping them to manage stress, helping them to develop their own emotional intelligence. What I realized very quickly was that even sometimes when people really want to develop themselves in this way, we all put up barriers to doing things a different way.
And then to come back to the corporate culture, there are barriers in the corporate culture that stop us from potentially develop into the level that we could. Is this the individual’s responsibilities or is this the corporate or the organization’s responsibility? Well, it’s both, it’s the responsibility of all. First of all, helping people to understand themselves better and to understand that even sometimes when I want to do things differently, there are so many barriers and blocks to doing things differently even when I want to.
That my body and my brain and just wants to keep me safe, just want to keep me at a certain level of homeostasis, just to keep me doing the things in the way that I’ve always done them. Even when we want to do something differently, our brain, certain parts of our brain will just try to keep us alive. That’s why you and I were born. The previous generations of people that have come before us have survived long enough for us to end up on this earth.
Even we set out to do things in a different way so we’ve learned some new information, we’ve decided “I’m going to try and start asking more questions from my team or I’m going to try and get back to some basics of communication with my partner at home or with my children” and because this is what I see a lot when I’m working in an organization with people that they often say “Oh, this is stuff I can bring home to practice at home as well.”
When we are starting to try to do something in a different way because the brain the body just wants to keep a safe, there are certain parts of the brain that will start to engage very quickly to take us away from the new way we’re trying to do something and to bring us back to the old way of doing things, the old habits.
How can we encourage our brain to change the way we are doing things and adapt to new learning process or delivery process?
When I started working with organizations, helping people to learn, I noticed how a lot of the information was still been delivered in a very traditional mode, it’s the slide decks. It’s somebody standing on the top of the room and that was never very interesting to me and personally, I never learned that way at all.
On my school reports, I was always daydreaming and I don’t know what I was daydreaming about. I just never engaged with that. Very quickly when I started doing this work, one of the things that drew me to it all as well, was how can we do things differently so how can we help people to learn differently.
I used a lot of I guess what we call experiential processes. So, taking concepts, models, tools, and techniques and getting people to get up on their feet and try them very, very quickly. So, start having those conversations and sometimes playing games that would bring different elements of communication or thinking or emotional intelligence or anything like that. And getting people to have to do, to take action in the training room.
Over the process of this, I noticed that a lot of people might be nervous about this at first, but then once they engage with us, they would always at the end say “That was much better. I feel like I learned so much more than one of the experiences before because I’m used to this information being presented to me on slides and documents. Now I really have to work hard here.”
That was one thing and then it was still a frustration for me because I would still see people really take this information, go back and do something different and that would make a difference to the change and the impact. But there was still a huge percentage of people who would still go back to work and very little would change. And so that’s why I started really investigating what is actually happening in the brain and body and what’s happening that’s blocking us.
For different people, it’s different things, but you’ve got to consider this, like from my perspective, I think if you help people understand how the brain actually operates and how it is interacting with the body, it will actually help people on a very high level understand what are the different elements of the brain that are involved. When we take new information there’s a certain part of our brain that is really highly engaged and that’s the area prefrontal cortex which is just behind our forehead.
But there’s also an area which is in our limbic system, so it’s a much older part of our brain, the amygdala which when we start to try to do something differently it far it off and it can send us into a fight or flight or freeze. And the fight or flight or freeze that happens for us is often in a situation it can be quite unconscious, we don’t even notice that it’s happening. But once that starts happening, then it takes our focus away from trying to do the thing a different way and it brings us back to the old ways of doing things.
When we talk about ways to actually help this, as I said there’s a mixture of different things for different people, for some people, it’s going to be about managing their own limiting beliefs and limiting thoughts. If somebody has learned some skills around having feedback conversations with their staff, a different way and then as soon as they go to try and have that conversation in a different way and the person you know doesn’t look happy or it is getting upset the amygdala sends information to flight, fight or freeze.
Then they will very unlikely try to have that conversation in a different way again. Sometimes it’s because it’s that emotional intelligence it’s the emotional regulation. It is actually trying to work out “What are my limiting beliefs that are getting me in the way of me actually having this conversation with this person and me just sitting with if they’re upset right now, just sitting with that, letting that pass, letting them have their say, let them be unhappy.
Because if I’m just sitting here listening to them and I’m overcoming my own emotional blocks and I’m letting them have their emotional outpour. That’s fine because we’ll actually get through it and we’ll get to the end.” But the problem is that with the pace of life and for a lot of us wanting to just make sure that the other person is okay and that that we are okay, get me out of the situation as quickly as possible, we are not able to sit with that.
Sometimes it’s our own limiting beliefs inside of us and then those particular exercises that you can work through that will help you to overcome those limiting beliefs. We also have all sorts of habit loops that go on. Our brain again is looking for certain cues, looking for certain rewards and it is not getting that it’s very unlikely to actually change what it’s doing. Another thing that’s internal to people is our own personal values.
We all have a difference in values that are important to us. For some of us is respect, integrity, honesty, for some of us it could be health, it could be freedom, it could be the adventure, it could be learning. You and I, Katrina, might have some values that we hold in high esteem that could be very similar to each other but will also have different values.
If I’m working with you to help you to make change, if I can help you to connect with your values, the things that are most important to you in life and how you go about your day-to-day and how about how you want to be known and seen by other people, then if I can help you to tap in with that and to associate your learning to that, then you are more likely to see through and follow through on the new learning that you want to embed in yourself long-term. And that’s just some of the internal stuff. Of course, there’s a lot of external stuff, as well.
To find out more about maximizing Brain Potential for Learning and Change in your organization visit the Adaptas website.