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Social Connection, Social Pain in the Workplace

brain coaching culture emotional regulation feedback neuroscience organizational culture parenting self-care social connection workplace

Earlier today, the Twin Cities NeuroLeadership Institute Local Interest Group met as we do quarterly. The group is usually a mix of psychologists, organization development consultants, coaches, and managers. Today, our learning focused on a particular person – Dr. Matt Lieberman, Professor of Psychology at UCLA – and his area of expertise within neuroleadership. social cognitive neuroscience.

Dr. Lieberman spoke two years ago at the NeuroLeadership Institute’s annual Summit, where he gave a talk called, “Getting On With Others.” We listened to the audio recording of this session today, pausing twice for discussion around what we were most struck by, and ideas for how to practically apply some of the research findings Lieberman spoke of. He is a wonderful speaker, so for those of you not in the room with us, I’m sorry that I cannot recreate the experience for you. But I can share with you some of the learning takeaways that today’s group highlighted:

  • social pain uses the same network in the brain that physical pain does
  • social connection – particularly for mammals – should be at the top of the survival needs list!
  • social disconnection, and certainly rejection, cause social pain
  • social support has reliable effects on how we experience physical pain and also seems to alleviate social pains
  • the state of mind, and self-awareness of a person impacts how socially painful an interaction may feel. . . in other words, the same interaction could be reported as far more devastating to one person than another, largely due to their individual mindsets, experience with social disconnection, social support available, and abilities to regulate their emotions
  • parents and teachers are in a position to model and teach emotional regulation to children, and . . .
  • managers and leaders are in a position to do so as well but questions arise — where does the responsibility of a good manager lie, in coaching employees to be more self-aware, better able to regulate emotions to be less negatively impacted by rejection and disconnection? Is it within a manager’s jurisdiction, simply because employee and team interactions so greatly impact work environment and then, productivity? Or is this territory best kept at arm’s length, leaving the emotional regulation work to other kinds of professionals, and solely the performance-related behavioral coaching to the manager?

This was a very eye-opening talk, rich with implications for managers and leaders. If this topic piques your interest, you may be interested in Lieberman’s new book, “Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect” available (among other places) on

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