Do you recall the last time you felt on the same wavelength with someone? It’s that sense that you know what others are thinking and feeling and that they “get you” too.
At work, being on the same wavelength is what keeps team members connected, coordinated and focused on their shared tasks. Connection between people expedites the flow of information between them and improves relationships, which means there’s more trust, less hassle and more likelihood that people will communicate frequently and easily
The scientific term for getting on the same wavelength is interpersonal neural synchronization (INS), a branch of interpersonal neuroscience. Informally, INS is referred to as getting in sync.
I recently found two great studies that highlighted INS in the workplace. The first study asked the question, “Are there particular patterns or conditions of communication at play when brain hyper scanning instruments pick up the highest levels of neural synchronization between people?”(Yun 2013)
The answer is a definite yes! When it comes to communication, human brain waves get in sync only when people are engaged in a dialogue in which they are facing each other and the dialogue is interactive—when both people talk and listen in a connected stream of conversation. The researchers also found that when body language, facial expressions and turn taking were most pronounced neural synchronization was highest. No synchronization was detected when people were facing away from each other while communicating. Likewise, brain synchronization did not occur when only one person talked (monologue), even when people were facing each other.
Communicating to Get In Sync
- Face to face
- Interactive dialogue (turn taking)
- Active gestures and expressions
- Accurate interpretation of others’ words and cues
- Thoughtful responses to others’ ideas
- No “babbling” or monologue
The second study investigated if and how the emergence of leaders in groups might be correlated with their ability to get on the same wavelength with others. It also examined the communication patterns of the emergent leaders to see if their communication was significantly different from those who did not become leaders (Jiang & Lu 2014). This study involved 12 three-person groups, and as in the first study, brain hyper-scanning instruments were used to measure the levels of interpersonal neural synchronization of the members in each of the groups as they interacted to solve a given task. In a nutshell, this is what they discovered:
- Those who emerged as leaders registered significantly higher levels of neural synchronization with others in their group than those who did not emerge as leaders.
- Leaders’ brain wave synchronization with others was consistently associated with their higher quality of communication.
- It was the quality of the leaders’ communication that set them apart from other group members—not how much they talked.
So, if you are someone who frequently emerges as a leader in small groups, you are most likely tuned into others in the group. You directly face people when you talk with them and pay close attention to their words and body language. You are able to hold your own thoughts in balance with what others are communicating, and respond in a way that shows people you understand them. Furthermore, you’re less likely to engage in a lengthy monologue and more likely to ask others about their opinions and feelings. As a result of feeling connected and valued, group members turn to you for leadership.
It’s always great to find scientific evidence for something that validates my experience. In this case, I knew that good communication connects us at a deeper level, but I didn’t know that our brains can actually get on the same wavelength and that our connection can be scientifically detected and measured. I also gained further clarity about the specific communication patterns that get people in sync with one another at work and make them more likely to be seen by others as leaders. I hope you found some useful ideas here too.
Yun Kyongsik (2013) On the same wavelength: face to face communication increases interpersonal neural synchronization. Journal of Neuroscience, 33(12):5081-5082.
J. Jiang, C. Chen and C. Lu (2015) Leader emergence through interpersonal neural synchronization. Proceedings National Academy of Sciences USA, 112(14): 4274-4279.