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How Does Cognitive Neuroscience Impact on Coaching?

23 February 2017

Ok so it doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, but ‘Cognitive Neuroscience’ is one of the buzz phrases more frequently linked with coaching, because of the important role it is argued it can play.

What is it?

Cognitive neuroscience is the scientific study of neural mechanisms with a specific focus on the human brain.  It looks at how cognition, (how we acquire and understand knowledge), is affected and controlled by neural circuits in the brain.   

And the benefits for coaching? Well, the argument goes that if we have a better understanding of how our brains work, how we form behaviours and more importantly how we change them, this can only aid coaching, enabling us to be more open in the first instance and more likely to deliver on the outcomes.

What does neuroscience tell us that can directly help us get the most from coaching?

Knowledge lessens threat – A basic understanding of brain science can provide coaches and mentors alike with a better insight into productive and unproductive behaviours.  No one likes to feel like they’re being criticised or critically evaluated, but if we had a better understanding of how our brains work and could potentially lessen negative responses to feedback, this could lead to a better coaching experience as well as long term resulting success.

Emotions are essential for decision-making – Traditional and long-standing beliefs that ‘emotions have no place in workplace decision-making’ are challenged by certain areas of neuroscience study. The case for this is that emotions AND logical reasoning coupled together, make for a far more effective decision making process, rather than just one or the other.  

Building relationships – Leaders are required to build relationships that inspire and motivate others.  Much research has taken place and is ongoing into the areas of the brain that positively and negatively affect relationship building, whether it be arousing attention or invoking compassion, and how this can make us more effective leaders in the workplace.

Habits and how we CAN change them – How do we use coaching to its best advantage if there is the temptation to fall back on old habits?  The study of neuroscience and an appreciation for the fact the whilst our brains like reliable patterns, they also crave variety, could go a long way in convincing us of the need for long term behaviour and habit changes to enable positive change.

Surely if we have a better understanding of how and why we behave and make decisions in the first place, this can only improve the coaching experience and all-important outcomes… 

Food for thought?

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