Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Breaking Free - The Power of Nice

"You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Last month I gave a keynote address at the PMI Houston Conference & Expo. Kathy Ridley, the current chapter president, asked me to do a special presentation on the Power of Nice. We received terrific reviews so I thought I'd share the neuroscience and axiology of the Power of Nice with you.

What is NICE?

The word 'nice' is used in a variety of ways. I hear it most often as people say "Have a nice day." What exactly does that mean? Nice has so many different meanings.

For instance, 'nice' can mean pleasing, delightful, pleasant and kind. It can also mean minute, fine or subtle as in "a nice distinction". It can also mean accurate, precision or skillful as in "nice shot" or "nice workmanship". (I'm pretty sure people aren't saying "Have a subtle day." or "Have an accurate day.")

Oh, but nice can also mean virtuous, respectable or proper as in "She's a nice girl." Then you can also put the word "too" in front of nice so that it means something negative. "She's too nice." which usually equals doormat.

So, we're going to go with the first definition of nice meaning pleasant and delightful... something that brings joy and satisfaction.

This is your brain

The conscious brain gets all the attention. You know the part that is aware and thinks and plans. We spend a lot of time, energy and money developing the conscious part of our brain. However, it is a slave to all of the other parts that lie "beneath" it. Every feeling is a summary of data that comes from our subconscious/autonomic brain. Our feelings are visceral responses to all the information that your brain contains that can't be directly accessed by your conscious brain.

An Open-Loop Limbic System

In Daniel Goleman's book, Primal Leadership (2002, HBS Press), he discusses the design of the human brain: what scientists have begun to call the open-loop nature of our emotional centers (limbic system).