Becoming a team is all about getting ’in sync’ with one other. Many of us are in awe of the seemingly effortless harmonization you see in synchronized swimming, but what we often don’t realize is that we all experience this kind of synchrony on a daily basis – and we can learn to get better at it.
People often match their strides as they walk, cross their legs the same way as they sit, or imitate their postures and gestures as they talk. We even copy each other’s phrases and grammar.
This neural coupling – a complex synchronization process – is a key part of communication and, with new tools and technologies in the field of neuroscience, we can even visualize the brain activity in this state of synchrony. This helps researchers across the globe to better understand how it works and how groups can benefit from it.
Leverage natural synchronizers
The quality of communication between people rises significantly if their brainwaves are synchronized. Here are some tips that help you to naturally synchronize with others:
1. Prepare for a conversation
Especially as a coach, team captain or team manager, when speaking to people you should always address them by their names. Try to memorize family details, actively focus on the topic you’re discussing and try to anticipate the course of the conversation. This provides the neuronal basis for empathy and synchrony in any conversation.
2. Maintain eye contact
Keeping eye contact is essential if you’re to have a successful conversation, whether it’s as part of a one-on-one chat or talking to a bigger group, since facing each other synchronizes brainwaves measurably.
3. Watch your language
Take a deep breath before you speak. This fosters a calm, yet strong voice that inspires trust. Additionally, using a language that everybody equally understands is also crucial.
4. Be an active listener
Listening should never be passive. You should always actively confirm – either verbally or non-verbally – that you understand what is being said. These reactions can be very subtle: nod your head, say ‘yes’ to encourage your counterpart to continue and remember to maintain eye contact. Such feedback generates positive reactions from deep within the emotional center of the brain. As a result, your brain waves synchronize more naturally and speaking feels easier and more open and honest.
5. Move to increase the intensity
If possible – especially in one-on-one conversations – go for a walk together while you talk. Biological functions such as your heartbeat, breathing and stride length will synchronize with your partner, as will your brainwaves… and hopefully your discussion.
Raise your self-awareness with mindfulness activities
Although synchronization runs mostly subconsciously, you can actively train, cognitively control, and eventually use aspects of it to your advantage; however, this requires mental strength and the right strategy.
First, you need to understand the importance of the Default Mode Network (DMN) in your brain. This is what enables us to carry out tasks automatically such as driving a car, riding a bike or listening to music whilst doing something else/taking in other information at the same time. In this state, active synchronization with others is not possible. Once you become aware of it, you can regain control by deactivating that state of mind.
As a result, you will learn to better reflect on your own mental status and identify distractions that impact your levels of concentration and actually help you to overcome periods of tiredness and mental disengagement.
Taking science beyond the lab
My colleagues from Eichstätt LEARLab© and I are only at the beginning of deeper research into this topic. While most studies are still lab-based, we’re committed to finding out how the brain works in more natural real-life situations, thanks to technological solutions such as eye trackers, portable EEGs and a high-end video equipment. Our findings will help us to understand and improve communication in everyday life, in sports, as well as at work.
This will also have a positive effect on the groups around you through better alignment, better collaboration and with fewer misunderstandings. Acting as one team will develop and strengthen your organization and lead to better performance for everyone.