I first wrote about the Neural Tripwire and Mr. Rogers a few years ago. I recently rewatched Mr. Rogers testimony in Congress on YouTube. It hasn't lost its power or its resonance.
Humility and business aren't frequent bedfellows but David Marcum and Steven Smith, authors of Egonomics,have made a compelling case that maybe they should be.
Does your ego help or hurt you in business?
When your identity is continually fused with your ideas -- any perceived threat to your ego turns on your autonomic nervous system and you chemically you begin to hear less and defend more.
Marcum and Smith tell a great story about Fred Rogers (Mr. Roger's Neighborhood) when he appeared before a senate committee to help prevent the cutting of government funding for National Educational Television (PBS) in half. The hearing was chaired by Rhode Island Senator John Pastore.
You can watch the actual testimony below, but here is a portion of the transcript and some telling insight from Marcum and Smith.
Pastore: (Challenging) All right, Rogers, you've got the floor.
Mr. Rogers (Holding a document he was asked to submit) Senator Pastore, this is a philosophical statement and would take about 10 minutes to read, so I'll not do that. One of the first things that a child learns in a healthy family is trust, and I trust what you've said, that you will read this. It's very important to me. I care deeply about children. My first--
Pastore: (Interrupting) Will it make you happier if you read it (Said sarcastically and with a slight condescending tone. (The audience and press nervously laugh).
Marcum and Smith interrupt the story to give the reader a look at the dynamics that affect our interactions. "At this point, Rogers had two things working against him. 1) The surge of his own ego working to 'protect' him and someone else's closed mind. To understand how our ego affects our intensity and intent behind a discussion, let's look at what wold likely be going on inside our head if we were Fred Rogers.
When we are threatened, our response to a threat becomes physiological. Dr. John Gottman calls this escalation of emotion "diffuse physiological arousal (DPA). Dr. Daniel Goleman calls it the "neural tripwire." Among other things. we start secreting adrenaline, chemicals that cause our heart to race up to 30 beats per minute faster, arteries constrict, and perspiration increases. (Essentially the flight or flight response).
"When we're in DPA on the inside -- and acting like we're not on the outside -- things happen in the brain that cause tunnel vision and we can't hear what is being said." DPA literally affects our hearing. The brain reacts and we there is a physiological response to challenges or a perceived attack on ego and identity (values, character, beliefs, our sense of what we consider to be right or wrong etc.)
Let's go back to Rogers and Pastore.
"Consider the timing of Pastore's sarcastic remark to Rogers. Not only was it condescending and filled with excessive ego, (or as I see it a dismissiveness) it was delivered at the very moment Rogers shared what was most important to him." How we manage and channel the intensity of our own internal experience determines whether ego works for or against us.
"The weld between our identity and or ideas is sometimes so tight that we don't separate the two, or we can't separate the two, or we can't separate them easily when questions or perceived threats present themselves."
The key here is that if we can't distinguish who we are from what we do, what we have or who we do it with, we won't see past our titles or tenure in a discussion. If we say to ourselves or others, "I'm the vice president or I'm the CEO ... then we are parading our identity and take the conversation personally."
Let's go back to Rogers.
Rogers: I'd just like talk about it, if that's all right --
Pastore: (interrupting again) All right, sir, Okay.
"Rogers began to discuss the state of television, the role violence plays in television, and how it undermines the the emotional development and health of children. At first, Pastore appears to patronize, acting as if he is listening, but his body language sends a different message But the transformation that occurs is visible. Within minutes, Pastore turns increasingly sincere, asking questions about Roger's program. Despite Pastore's early contempt, Rogers remained devoted to progress." In the intensity of debate, humility helps us from making the debate personal.
My goal as a manager Innovation consultant has always been to channel intensity from identity to ideas.
I have found that many managers and clients begin to go into the DPA brain mode because they are defending identity. You can see this played out in the body language and attitude of Colin Powell and Donald Rumsfeld in virtually any cabinet meeting of the early Bush years.
My question to readers is how has your experience been in the workplace. Are you identity mode or idea mode? Has the DPA brain heating you up or are you in the moment? I hope you will contribute comments and experiences. (Either from the comment section below or directly to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.) I will add my experiences. If you wish to remain anonymous, put that into your message.
Here is Mr. Rogers in Congress