Bridge over ocean
1 August 2013 CFA Institute Journal Review

Your Brain Is Hooked on Being Right (Digest Summary)

  1. Gregory G. Gocek, CFA

The brain’s biochemical reactions under stress can lead to dysfunctional behavior in groups. To produce a countervailing hormone conducive to cooperation, the author offers some straightforward collaborative exercises that apply effective communications strategies.

What’s Inside?

The author, who is a management consultant to Fortune 500 companies and has written six books, describes the neurochemical basis of behavior under stress and potential detrimental effects on managerial performance. She suggests several countervailing strategies that can generate offsetting hormonal reactions and lead to favorable outcomes.

How Is This Article Useful to Practitioners?

Contemporary investment processes are typically “team sports” requiring extensive interpersonal collaboration and group dynamics, which means they have an unavoidable potential for conflict. In situations that involve strongly advocated alternative viewpoints, the issues associated with optimal decision making are revealed. In these situations, biochemical reactions occur that generate hormones of adrenaline and dopamine or cortisol, which lead to the rush associated with personal dominance or the dysfunctional behavior patterns of fight, flight, freeze, or appease. Like many obsessions, the addiction to being right can be harmful.

But there is an alternative in harnessing humans’ most powerful and flexible tool, their mind, to create connections that spur the production of the beneficial hormone oxytocin. Accessing this hormone can be achieved with some simple exercises that could be implemented in most professional settings. For example, setting the rules of engagement before meetings start can promote open and inclusive group interaction. Another example is listening with empathy, which develops mutual understanding and trust. Finally, planning who speaks allows all participants a chance to offer their views and establish full personal engagement.

Abstractor’s Viewpoint

Resting soundly on biological determinants, the author’s suggestions have appealing prudence. As a short commentary, the suggestions neglect some possibly intractable complications that make interpersonal conflict a perennial challenge in a highly competitive business. For example, people may argue as much about rules of engagement before play begins and carry over the feelings generated from that debate to the subsequent game. If a superior imposes an ideal solution to circumvent that, I would question whether that would be fully benign or an arbitrary power exercise.

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