Neuroception, our “6th sense”
As human beings, our brain is structured to ensure safety. To reach this feeling of safety, we have our 5 senses which allow us to see, hear, smell, touch, or taste a danger. For example, we are alerted by our senses when we smell rotten food or hear a loud fire alarm.
Sometimes it takes our senses somewhat long to react, as the knowledge of the danger goes from our senses to our cognitive brain.
We also have another function that protects us from dangers. It functions even before our senses and cognitive brain detect danger, and it’s much quicker. It’s called “neuroception.” Neuroception" describes how neural circuits distinguish whether situations or people are safe, dangerous, or life threatening. For example, think about how you feel when you enter a meeting room, and you can sense that something joyous or stressful just happened. You don’t have visual or auditive clues about what happened, but you can FEEL it. This feeling without clues is the “neuroception.” In only 0.07 seconds our neuroception sensors have a clear idea about what we are facing.
Neuroception is connected to our vagal nerve, which starts at the beginning of our spinal column on the back of our head. If danger is perceived, it gives signals to our body to fight or flight. If a safe space is perceived it gives the signal to relax and make connections. As you can see, we can create stronger connections when we feel that we are in a safe space. We can engage with another person in a meaningful conversation when we can show vulnerability and talk about what really matters. In the workspace, I often see conversations that lead to aggressiveness because people are stressed, thus they run away from the only thing that could reduce their stress: open communication. Talking about what’s going on within themselves instead of showing signs of impatience can ease their situation. If under stress you are able to say, “I am sorry, but in this moment I am stressed. What could we do TOGETHER to solve this problem,” you create connection and collaboration to overcome the matter at hand.
How to create a safe space: “I/WE” language
Let’s pause for a moment to see how we create a safe space for others to feel seen, heard, and understood. I/WE language is crucial in fostering a safe space.
We have “I” conversations when we judge, distrust, or are self-centered. For example, when we try to solve our problems alone with the belief that others cannot help, it is oftentimes based on the fact that we can not trust that other people have our best interests at heart.
We have “WE” conversations when we accept ourselves and others with compassion. When we initiate collaboration, we are able to trust, work, and act with transparency and empathy.
Here are some examples of how you can initiate a “WE” conversation:
- What do we want to achieve together? → We achieved
- We will make it.
- How can we learn from our mistakes?
- Let’s work together.
- How do you feel about this or that?
- What do you think?
- What’s best for us and the community?
Some tips for everyday practice
Below, I have listed a few tips to make sure we are fostering safe spaces in our everyday lives.
Before entering in a meeting, check your mood, take three long breaths and think about something positive. Your colleagues’ neuroception will sense your inner state.
Before starting the meeting, set up some ground rules like “we are here to talk about this topic, and our objective is to find a common solution” Another great rule that can be set is “we are going to take the time to listen and we reply politely by taking into account what has been said.”
When you meet a colleague and ask “how are you,” do it with the intention to listen to the REAL answer, beyond the words.
If you had a stressful day, before going home, think about how much you love your family and how much love they give to you in return. Show your best self.
Be nice to yourself, and remember to create a safe space for yourself as well!
Some simple practices can change your world and develop meaningful relationships that will make you happy and those around you.
You can learn more about how to create a safe space with group coaching by joining our October cohort today! Click HERE to join now.
 From the theory of Stephen W. Porges: Dab Dana, The Polyvagal Theory”, 2018