Home > Talent > Expert Contributor

Rewire Your Brain to Collaborate With Different People

By Fernando Valenzuela Migoya - Global Edtech Impact Alliance


By Fernando Valenzuela Migoya | President - Tue, 01/31/2023 - 16:00

share it

As 2023 began, I decided to choose “meraki” as the word that will guide my work this year. 

Meraki is Greek and describes when a person has really put a part of themselves into something. It could be cooking that comes from the heart, composing a piece of music that comes straight from the soul, or writing an article that expresses thoughts openly, honestly, and vulnerably. 

In this article, I am sharing what moves my soul: Learning! I am passionate about learning — how we learn, why we learn, and what to learn in these uncertain and technological disruptive times. 

To this end, I was intrigued to learn the most recent developments in neuroplasticity, which is the ability of the brain to adapt itself in response to new experiences, situations, or changes in the environment. This means that you can either improve a skill or learn a new one by accessing the power of neuroplasticity. 

By understanding this ability of the brain to adapt and reorganize itself, you can harness neuroplasticity to improve your thinking and modify old assumptions and beliefs. Science has developed so much in understanding how our brain functions that most of how and what we learned in the past makes no sense any longer.

That realization led me to learn about the work of Dr. Tara Swart, an expert on neuroplasticity. Her idea is simple: no matter how old, how stubborn, or how set in your ways, everyone has the capacity to change.

Therefore, over the holidays, I took her course at MIT Sloan Executive Education: Neuroscience for Business. Here are some of the lessons learned:

Recent experiments were able to discover the brain’s ability to remap itself. A brain map is formed through the connection of a body part to a specific area of the brain, and when there is a loss of sensation, such as after a stroke, a new area of the brain will take responsibility for that lost function, thereby remapping itself.

When you repeat a skill many times, you improve the efficiency of already established neural pathways to the point where you become an expert at executing skills associated with them.

Other imaging studies showed that there is a parental caregiving network in the brain that is activated when you become a mother or a father. This forms part of various overlapping networks that comprise the social brain, which is a network of areas that enable you to recognize other people and evaluate their feelings, intentions, beliefs, and actions. (Feldman 2015)

When you become a parent, forming a bond with your new baby becomes paramount, but it is an adjustment that requires change in the brain. Making this adjustment is possible because of the power of neuroplasticity and the reorganization of various neural pathways. 

Then there is the connection of our brain with others. The Ripple Effect: Emotional Contagion and Its Influence on Group Behavior, a book written by Sigal G. Barsade, published in 2002, discusses the concept of emotional contagion, which is the transmission of emotions from person to person within a group. The book explores the ways in which emotional contagion can influence group behavior and decision-making, and how it can affect the performance and well-being of individuals within a group. 

Barsade also discusses the factors that can influence the transmission of emotions within a group, including the culture and climate of the organization, the level of cohesiveness and social support among group members, and the leadership style of group leaders. 

Contagion describes how the connections you have with other people impact your thinking, behavior, and well-being. According to research, the people you surround yourself with have a strong influence on many aspects of your life. (Christakis & Fowler 2013)

I am convinced that the main skill that we must develop if we are to succeed in facing the challenges that humanity faces is collaboration. Humans have a need to establish connections with others, whether on a personal or professional level. Your brain thrives on these connections, and their quality plays an important role in your thinking, mood, and behavior. (Swart 2019)

Therefore, you shall focus on the people who bring the best out of you, as this will help you feel more connected with abundance and potential.

If you do something with positive intent, most likely you will have better results than if you do it from an external motivation or obligation. I think our challenge in collaboration is that we tend to collaborate with others who think and act just like us, and we tend not to collaborate with people who think differently. 

That is where we must exercise our neuroplasticity: learn to collaborate with different people. You can decide how much time you would like to invest in this activity. Remember, the more effort you put into developing a skill, the bigger and stronger your neuroplastic brain adaptation will be.

Brain adaptation occurs in phases. During the short-term phase, new connections are being stimulated between neurons through the release of brain chemicals. The focus then shifts to the long-term phase, which requires repeated practice to strengthen those connections and form new behaviors and habits. (Swart 2019)

Collaboration is a crucial aspect of success in today's complex and interconnected world. It requires the ability to work effectively with others, regardless of differences in background, perspective, or interests. 

Two books that offer valuable insights into the challenges and opportunities of collaboration are Collaborating with the Enemy: How to Work with People You Don't Agree with or Like or Trust, by Adam Kahane, and The Evolution of Cooperation, by Robert Axelrod.

In Collaborating with the Enemy, Kahane draws on his extensive experience as a facilitator and consultant to explore the challenges and opportunities of collaboration in a range of contexts, including business, politics, and social activism. He argues that collaboration is essential in today's complex and rapidly changing world, as it allows us to tackle complex problems that require diverse perspectives and expertise. However, he also recognizes that collaboration can be difficult, particularly when we are working with people who have different goals, values, or beliefs.

Kahane offers several practical strategies for overcoming these challenges and building effective collaboration. One key strategy is to focus on the "intermediary space" between conflicting parties, where it is possible to find common ground and work toward mutually beneficial solutions. He also emphasizes the importance of establishing trust and building relationships, which requires listening actively, showing respect, and being open to feedback and learning.

Robert Axelrod's book, The Evolution of Cooperation, also offers valuable insights into the dynamics of collaboration. In this book, Axelrod explores the ways in which cooperation can emerge and thrive in situations where self-interest might seem to dictate otherwise. 

Using examples from a variety of fields, including biology, economics, and political science, he shows how cooperation can be a powerful force for positive change and progress. Axelrod argues that cooperation is more likely to emerge when there is a sense of fairness and trust among the parties involved. He also highlights the importance of reciprocity, or the idea that we are more likely to cooperate with others when we believe that they will do the same for us.

Both Kahane and Axelrod's books offer valuable insights into the challenges and opportunities of collaboration in a range of contexts. Whether we are working with colleagues, competitors, or adversaries, we can learn valuable lessons from these books about how to build trust, establish common ground, and work toward mutually beneficial solutions. 

By focusing on these principles, we can improve our chances of success and make a positive impact on the world around us. 

Let’s embrace collaboration and rewire our brains to learn how to collaborate with more diverse perspectives and experiences!

Photo by:   Fernando Valenzuela Migoya

You May Like

Most popular