How The Brain Helps Us Handle Disagreements And Diversity In Our Careers

In today’s workplace where employees sometimes disagree and #sociallydiverse populations work together, #communication is essential, requiring the regulation of prejudices and stereotypes and a degree of well-tuned synchrony. It’s commonly agreed that differences of opinion and #diversity are core components of an optimal workforce that brings value to stockholders as well as employees and that many viewpoints give organizations a competitive advantage. Yet #Gallup research shows that 45% of American workers experienced some form of #discrimination or harassment in a given year. Companies sometimes take a narrowed look when analyzing the population for potential hires which can hinder employing the best talent.

A long-standing body of research shows that socioeconomic status (based on family income and education level) impacts our perspective, attitudes and social interactions. The serious divide in this country among different beliefs and racial and income groups has spilled over into the streets in the form of racial unrest. As the #workplace becomes more diverse, it doesn’t necessarily become less prejudiced and discriminating and more harmonious. No one should be expected to work in an atmosphere that implies they don’t belong, their ideas are not acceptable or they are psychologically and physically unsafe.

This topic is important for diversity management to prevent workplace prejudice, stereotypes and discrimination and bring employees with diverse opinions from diverse backgrounds into work teams. Everyday in #workplaces across the county, populations from #diversecultures interact with one another. Diverse cultures have implicit biases, perspectives and prejudices that naturally impose challenges to connections and collegiality. The human #brain is constantly helping us navigate social diversity so we can understand one another and work together in harmony, according to #neuroscientists.

The Neuroscience of Disagreement And Diversity

Yale neuroscientists have developed an innovative technique called functional near infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) that allows them to observe the neural activity in the brain when two people are having a face-to-face conversation. Their findings indicate that when two colleagues, for example, disagree or have diverse socioeconomic backgrounds, brain scans reveal different patterns. One finding, published in January, 2021, shows when you disagree with someone you’re talking to, you have greater activity in the front of your brain—the prefrontal cortex (or “thinking brain”) which helps you debate your side of the argumentIn contrast, when you’re engaged in agreement, you have less cognitive activity and greater activity in the social and attention networks in the brain, signaling synchronization and harmony with the other person. But when you disagree, there is less neural activity, and the synchrony morphs into disconnection.

In another study published last September, Yale scientists reported a parallel finding in brain activity during social interactions between people of different cultures and backgrounds. The Yale scientists discovered that your brain also acts differently when you talk with someone of a different socioeconomic background from your own. They detected a higher activity level in the prefrontal cortex, which is also responsible for self-regulation, bias avoidance and collaboration with your limbic system (or emotional brain) to help you understand the world. Your prefrontal cortex is the decider of whether or not you do what your impulsive, lightning-fast emotional brain wants to do. The Yale scientists concluded that, despite our implicit biases and prejudices, the human brain’s frontal lobe activates during conversations among employees from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds to assist in navigating social diverse attitudes and communication barriers.


Bryan Robinson, Ph.D.

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