How coaching with compassion ‘lights up’ our brain

Thursday, November 18, 2010

WASHINGTON - Researchers at Case Western Reserve University have found that people respond much better to a coach they find inspiring and who shows compassion for them, rather than one who they perceive to be judging them.

“We’re trying to activate the parts of the brain that would lead a person to consider possibilities. We believe that would lead to more learning. By considering these possibilities we facilitate learning,” said Richard Boyatzis, distinguished university professor, and professor of organizational behaviour, cognitive science and psychology.

Boyatzis and Anthony Jack, assistant professor of cognitive science, philosophy and psychology used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to show neural reactions based on two types of coaching - one encouraged envisaging a positive future, and the other set a more standard tone by focusing on a person’s failings and what he or she ought to do.

“Students tended to activate the areas associated with visioning more with the compassionate coach, even when the topics they were thinking about weren’t so positive,” Jack said of the results.

Jack said the fMRI images show the neural signatures of visioning, a critical process for motivating learning and behavioural change. What Boyatzis and Jack set out to do was to observe brain images, which reflect coaching tone.

“By spending 30 minutes talking about a person’s desired, personal vision, we could light up (activate) the parts of the brain 5-7 days later that are associated with cognitive, perceptual and emotional openness and better functioning,” Boyatzis said.

“Everyone’s got to look at weaknesses and take them on,” Jack said.

“But often the focus is so much on the bottom line that we worry ourselves into the ground. It is more important to focus on what gets you going in the morning and gets you wanting to work hard and stay late.”

The study was presented at a recent Academy of Management Annual Meeting in Montreal and awarded as a Best Paper. (ANI)

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