Tag: brain science

The Supersonic Sub-second

February 14th, 2012

You have less than a second—a quarter of a second, to be precise. That’s about how long it takes to sneeze, clap, or snap.

It’s also how long you have to engage people.

Imagine waiting to get your eyes examined. Whether you are conscious of it or not, you will asses whether or not to engage with your eye doctor within the first quarter-second of her entering the room.

According to Dr. Bonnie Badenoch, an expert on Interpersonal Neurobiology, our brains constantly monitor inputs from our environments, and file them as either “safe” or “unsafe.” In a similar way, our brains scan human interactions, though instead of filing inputs as “safe” or “unsafe,” it files interactions with other people as, “with me” or “not with me.”

Like the long arm of a radar, our brains sweep over interactions with others and intuitively know whether or not someone gets us. If your eye doctor enters the room and greets you with a smile, makes eye contact with you, and pulls up a chair and leans forward, your brain will likely conclude she’s engaged with you. You feel seen, and sense you’re not just another patient. Your brain then grants permission to engage with her. You can be with her because she is “with” you.

A primary source of data for this process is what Dr. Paul Ekman calls micro-expressions. These tiny facial movements flash across our faces at blurring speeds—less than a 15th of a second! Our brains detect these expressions, gather them as clues, and determine the true emotional state of others, and whether or not others are with us.

So, instead of singing, If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands, you can sing:

If you’re engaged and you know it, they can tell.

If you’re engaged and you know it, they can tell.

If you’re engaged and you know it, then your face will truly show it.

If you’re engaged and you know it, they can tell… (In a quarter of a second.)

This reminds us that clapping our hands and engaging people take about the same amount of time.

The call to action is for us to take seriously the discipline of being present, mindful, and engaged. As this research indicates, others will know when we are truly with them. We will recognize if they are with us, and all in a fraction of a second.