The Neuro-chemistry of Positive Conversations

LightbulbThink about the last time you had a really good conversation with a friend. How did this conversation make you feel? What thoughts did you have while you were having it and what emotions did you leave the conversation feeling?  Now think about the last time you had a negative conversation- (perhaps with your boss for example)  – what thoughts and feelings did you experience then both during and after this conversation?

Chances are that during the ‘good’ conversation, you would have felt anything ranging from positive about yourself and the relationship, optimistic, uplifted, motivated, energised, supported and cared for. The negative conversation on the hand might have left you feeling negative about yourself and the relationship, threatened, disoriented, anxious, fearful, misunderstood, lethargic and less motivated.

Interestingly, these experience are far from person-specific, as research today suggests that the impact that conversations have on us is actually connected with our neurobiological hardwiring. To explain further , positive conversations full of encouragement and compassion release oxytocin in our brains – a feel-good chemical not only responsible for bonding but also that tells us things are ‘safe’ and at peace in the world. Negative conversations rife with criticism and judgement , on other hand,  trigger our fight or flight system , releasing cortisol and sending both our brains and bodies into a state of heightened threat and stress.

This has a huge bearing on the kinds of conversations we want to be having on a daily basis – in particular with our children and also in the workplace ; two areas where traditionally, we often try to motivate growth and action through criticism. In their article called “ The Neurochemistry of Positive Conversations“, Glaser and Glaser summarise significance of learning to become more mindful of the types of conversations we hold , saying : “Behaviours that increase cortisol levels reduce  “Conversational Intelligence” or “C-IQ,” or a person’s ability to connect and think innovatively, empathetically, creatively and strategically with others. Behaviors that spark oxytocin, by contrast, raise C-IQ.” On a simpler level, they go on to say that conversations can either ‘open us up’ or ‘close us down’, and how important it is to harness the chemical potential of any given conversation to bring out the best in the person we are having it with. This could mean the difference between workplace success and inefficiency in our employees, or good and not-so-good grades in our kids. If we truly want to bring out the best in those around us, fostering openness , creativity and motivation , then learning to communicate in a more positive way is key. For more on how to increase conversational intelligence , you can contact Anoushka at 


Reference  – Judith E. Glaser & Richard D. Glaser, The Neurochemistry of Positive Conversations, Harvard Business Review Online, 06/12/2014.

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