Ancient drives spur energy, engagement

‘When you’re working with other people and feel highly connected, and there’s a sense of creativity that’s buzzing and there’s a sense of confidence, you’re unstoppable’

Ancient drives spur energy, engagement
Every human being is fuelled by ancient drives: significance, meaning, belonging, security and freedom, says an expert in corporate training. Credit: kmlmtz66 (Shutterstock)

Face-to-face conversation in the workplace has a direct impact on employee energy levels, according to Brady Wilson, co-founder of Juice, a corporate training organization in Guelph, Ont.

“We all have a massive amount of interactions every day, and every one of those interactions can either release a little bit more energy, or deplete energy,” he said at a recent SCNetwork event in Toronto.

“If we’re running our organizations in such a manner that people go home and just flop down on the chesterfield, we need to look at that… Connection is one of the things that is imperiled right now.”

When a person experiences a powerful human connection at work, it can feel like magic, said Wilson. Quality conversation can release energy in terms of possibility and resonance of values.

In fact, conversation is the operating system (OS) of organizations, he said.

“Conversation is the OS that drives all the apps in your organization,” said Wilson. “Sales is an app. Customer service is an app. Coaching is an app. Problem-solving, innovation, strategy — they’re all apps.”

“But take conversation out of customer service and what happens to the app? It’s useless.”

With this in mind, creating conditions where employees are able to sustain optimum energy and engagement levels should be high on employers’ to-do lists, he said.

“If we can shift those interactions even one degree to creating more energy, that might make a big difference.”

5 driving needs

Every human being is fuelled by ancient drives: significance, meaning, belonging, security and freedom, according to Wilson.

For example, belonging refers to a sense of inclusion and acceptance, he said.

“That is in our genes because being ousted from the tribe thousands and thousands of years ago means you probably won’t survive.”

The purchase of a pack of gum has the underlying motivation of people seeking social acceptance — the ancient drive of belonging, said Wilson.

The reasoning behind every decision can be boiled down to an ancient drive, he said. Some decisions are driven by security — meaning predictability, consistency, rules and fair play.

“People make decisions for emotional reasons,” said Wilson. “We make these decisions first emotionally, and then we justify them with our rational thinking.”

“(With) every one of these things, we are getting one of our ancient drives met.”

Different drives hold more significance for every person, but only one will matter the most at any given time, depending on life circumstances, he said.

“We know life is incredibly circumstantial, incredibly situational, and these drives can show up differently in very different situations.”

Various combinations of drives help produce energy in the day-to-day interactions of business professionals, according to Wilson. And when an individual’s needs are met, or a partnership with others occurs in this manner, positive energy is released.

“The quickest and most direct route to releasing energy is being able to get our drives met,” he said.

“These drives are not preferences — they are oxygen-like. Oxygen’s not a preference, it’s a driving need.”

However, ancient drives aren’t always expressed appropriately, resulting in negative energy being released in unskillful expressions of unmet needs, said Wilson.

For example, gossiping can be a bid for connection, while micromanaging can be a longing for security, he said.

Connecting to ancient drives and meaningful matters in conversation is a skill worth developing, as humans rarely leave a face-to-face interaction unchanged, said Wilson.

Rather, people exit each other’s presence with lower or higher levels of energy, he said, and appropriate reaction to and acknowledgement of concerns can make all the difference.

Inside the brain

Human connection releases energy, powering neurotransmitters within the brain, said Wilson. How an individual shows up or reacts to conversation literally creates a contraction or expansion in colleagues’ brains.

“It’s not that mystical,” he said. “When we connect on what matters most, we are actually releasing inside of our own brain, and inside the brain of another, oxytocin. And it builds a sense of trust and evokes this sense of ‘I would work with you.’”

Similarly, understanding what is possible releases dopamine, fuelling creativity, said Wilson.

“It’s the seeking drive — so motivation, goal orientation, ingenuity all get released,” he said. “You can actually release dopamine in your own brain and others by being good at understanding what’s possible.”

Shared value and respect also releases brain chemicals, unlocking a sense of invincibility, according to Wilson.

“When people give you recognition, it feels delicious,” he said. “Why? Because serotonin is flowing inside of you.”

And when oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin are flowing freely, good things happen, and can even make individuals feel as if they are smarter around certain people, said Wilson.

“Some people unlock oxytocin and dopamine and serotonin in your brain,” he said.

“And other people, when they shoot you down before you have a chance to develop your logic, when you feel judged or unduly criticized, when you feel there is a power differential being played… for whatever reason, we go to our primitive brain and we are not able to access the highly nuanced, future-based prefrontal cortex that we all love so much.”

“When you’re working with other people and you feel highly connected, and there’s a sense of creativity that’s buzzing and there’s a sense of confidence, you’re unstoppable,” said Wilson. “We’ve all experienced it.”

“When you are able to connect on what matters most, you splash the person’s brain with oxytocin, creativity, confidence.”

Focusing on connection, understanding possibilities and partnering together for progress would serve workforces well, he said.

“If you can connect on what matters most, that could be a really good coaching conversation.”

“We’ve been socialized not to talk about our needs, because I don’t want to feel — or be perceived as — broken, needy, selfish, narcissistic,” said Wilson. “What we’re trying to do is make the undiscussable discussable.”

Tweaking conversation with non-judgmental, non-accusing tactics can help steer interactions back towards what matters most, fuelling longer-lasting energy and engagement, he said.

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