As the saying goes, there are are two sides to every story. The story originator, the human brain, is no exception. The human brain is anatomically and functionally divided into two sides, or hemispheres. Each hemisphere has a distinct purpose. The left side is mainly involved in logic and reason. It loves lists and language, and interprets life in a concrete and literal way. The right brain is more creative and less black and white. It is the hemisphere of big emotions, is involved in the functions of empathy and self-reflection, and abstract interpretations. For a long time, conventional wisdom upheld that most of us were dominated by one hemisphere. The more creative and artistic were thought to be right brain dominant, and the science and math geeks were considered to be left brain dominant. However, emerging research has shown that when higher order cognition occurs, the entire brain becomes engaged. In fact, the most intelligent and highest functioning amongst us are not dominated by one side, but are adept at using both sides to ponder complex issues. These individuals have a well-integrated brain, in which both hemispheres disentangle difficult topics.
Knowledge of the functions of the two hemispheres and the importance of integration can help you tackle challenging interpersonal dynamics and finesse even the most difficult interactions. When another individual expresses a negative opinion about the quality of your business, your product, or even your personal style, let neuroscience help you mitigate the conflict and respond. When you become emotionally affected by someone else’s words, it is likely that person is speaking from the right brain, thereby activating your emotional side as well. Take your time and identify that this process is occurring. Next, use your left brain to describe the emotions in the room. For example, “I recognize you are upset that you were not given the service you expected from our company,” or “I hear that you are questioning the decisions we made in our marketing plan. It would have been reassuring to the investors to have some immediate gains,” or “I understand you are hurt and disappointed that you worked hard and did not get promoted. You were surprised by our choice, and that is a lot to process.” By using the left side of your brain to describe difficult feelings, you communicate understanding and help the other person unpack their emotions. Science has shown that by using language to describe emotions, we can begin to handle them instead of succumbing to their power. This makes sense. Integrating both hemispheres of the brain leads to emotional and cognitive harmony, allowing us to see the world from a larger perspective.
Knowledge of functional neuroanatomy of the brain can help you during difficult times. First, recognize when you or someone else is immersed in the stormy emotional world of the right brain. This is not the time to take action. Instead, first work towards bringing both sides of the brain together. Engage your left brain by applying language to describe how you or someone else is feeling. At this point, your goal is not to solve the issue, but to defuse big emotions with an objective and compassionate description. This will soften the emotional tone, and facilitate the integration of both hemispheres. Language and communication help to temper, not erase, negative feelings. When the left side of the brain is activated, your powers of deductive reasoning emerge. Now you are better equipped to use the integrated brain to help you or someone else through a difficult dilemma. Skillfully using your wisdom of the brain settles the mind and helps to stabilize dicey interpersonal interactions. This leads to more integrated thinking that will benefit communication skills and optimize collective problem solving.