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Valentine's Day Special: Conversational Intimacy

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Men, women crave it more than chocolate.
By Judith E. Glaser

We often talk about emotional and social intelligence--and emotional and physical intimacy--without acknowledging that intimacy starts with an intelligent conversation, a verbal or nonverbal valentine.

Factoids: Our brains are designed to be social. Our need for belonging is more powerful than our need for safety. When we are rejected, we experience pain in the same centers in the brain and body as when we are in a car crash. Being emotionally orphaned is more painful than death. When others show us love, respect, and honor us, it triggers the same centers in the brain as when we eat chocolate, have sex, or are on drugs.

Learning these emotional facts of life will change how you live, love and lead. From birth, we learn to avoid physical pain and move toward physical pleasure. Over time, we avoid pain to protect ourselves from ego pain, building habits and patterns of behavior that keep us safe from feeling belittled, embarrassed, devalued, or unloved. This may translate into avoiding people who stop listening when you speak, send you silent signals of disappointment, criticize your behavior, and find fault in your choices.

Pain can also come from anticipated rejection--not from what is real. If you imagine that telling your friend that he or she is annoying you will lead to a fight or argument, just the thought of having that conversation will produce the social pain of being rejected. We often avoid having such uncomfortable conversations and hold the frustration inside. The feared implications of pain become so real for us that we turn to avoidance, since confronting a person with a difficult conversation may lead to yelling, argument, rejection, or embarrassment. Our emotions are tied directly to feelings of pain and pleasure--in fact they are the source of pain and pleasure.

Neuroscience of Emotions

For the past 20 years, new discoveries at neuroscience research centers are revealing ways to handle negative emotions in new and healthy ways. Conventional wisdom suggests that it's better to not talk about these emotions. So, we turn to alternative strategies--such as holding negative judgmental ways, is being validated.

This is now science--not science fiction. We feel happy when someone appreciates us, sad when they think little of us. As we communicate, we read the content and emotions being sent. Conversations are more than the information we share or words we speak. They are a way to package our feelings about ourselves, our world, and others.

We communicate sad or happy with almost every conversation. As we understand the power of language in regulating how people feel every day, and the role language plays in evolving the brain's capacity to expand perspectives and create a "feel good" experience, then we can improve our relationships in profound ways.

How to Create Conversational Intimacy
Men, women and children who are regularly receive positive affirmation of their worth and engage in appreciative and value-based conversations become more optimistic about life and more self-confident. Those who live in punitive, judgmental relationships tend to be less positive about themselves and more judgmental about others. In effect, they pass the judgment "gene" on to others with whom they interact. Those who grow up in families where they are loved, where they discover their strengths, and where they are challenged in positive ways, tend to be healthy of mind, body and spirit.

Take the time on Valentines Day to focus on practicing how to create a feel good environment - at home, in relationships and at work:

Focus on the "feel" of the conversational culture that we create together.

o NeuroTip 1: Science is showing us that focusing on creating healthy environments can reduce illnesses associated with toxic environments.
o NeuroTip 2: We have two basic types of reactions in conversations--one causes us pleasure, and one causes us pain. Appreciation is pleasure; negative judgment is pain. Your pleasure centers are more closely linked to the pre-frontal cortex of the brain where your strategic and social skills reside, so you feel better when you come up with new and better strategies for the future.
o NeuroTip 3: Mentally and emotionally healthy people have a stronger immune system, affording them increased protection against disease.

We tend to underestimate the time required for the dialogue conversations people need in order to feel comfortable and understood. When stressed, people's mental acuity and processing circuitry closes down. When people are afraid, they listen differently--they listen for the implications of how change will affect them. Each person is having his or her internal dialogue, hypothesizing what these changes might be; and usually they fear loss, rarely do they anticipate gain. They fear that they will be rejected, their status will change, and they'll be transferred or asked to leave.

Each of us has a hand in creating feel good environments that enable us to connect in healthy ways and thrive. And the way we can do this rests on new wisdom emerging from the field of the neuroscience. You can become more conversationally intelligent by applying these powerful insights and wisdom to your daily conversational rituals every day.

Judith E. Glaser is CEO of Benchmark Communications, Inc. and Chairman of The Creating WE Institute. She is an Organizational Anthropologist, and consults to Fortune 500 Companies. Judith is the author of 4 best selling business books, including her newest Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results (Bibliomotion, 2013) Visit www.conversationalingelligence.com; www.creatingwe.com; jeglaser@creatingwe.com or call 212-307-4386.

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