Communication Skills Training

Neural Coupling, Brain Syncing, and Communication

Invited post by Kathleen Friesen, Friesen Group 

Imagine a tall glass of ice water, shimmering clear in a tall glass, ice clinking against the sides, cold to the touch, refreshing as you swallow. Although you didn’t just actually take a drink, the circuits in your brain that are used to seeing the glass, hearing the ice clink, feeling the cold surface, lifting the glass, and swallowing the water were activated as you imagined the experience.

Brains in Sync

People sit next to each other in a movie theater. As they watch the movie and experience the environment, their brain circuits fire in similar patterns. If someone in a room says the word “dog,” everyone’s brain circuits dedicated to the knowledge of dogs are activated – even though there is no dog in the room.

We know that speaking and listening is a mutual activity. Research in Interpersonal Neurobiology has been demonstrating these connections for a decade. But what do we know about more everyday conversations, ones that we might have in the break room or at the dinner table?

Princeton University researchers asked that question and designed a method to discover what happens in our brains during normal conversation. The process involved having a speaker tell an unrehearsed personal story, speaking as if to a friend or colleague. While they told the story, the researchers used an fMRI to map the speaker’s brain circuits. Then they had multiple persons listen to the recorded story while inside an fMRI.  In addition to the brain scans, the listeners were assessed for comprehension.

Neural Coupling

The scans showed that as listeners heard the story, their brains began to mirror or “couple” with the brain of the speaker. For some listeners, there was a slight delay in mirroring the speaker’s brain. But as the level of comprehension increased, the level of mirroring increased – eliminating the delay.  In the highest level of assessed comprehension, the listener’s brain scans actually preceded the speaker’s.

The experiment was repeated using the same story, but told in Russian to English speakers. The resulting brain scans showed no significant coupling in any brain region between speaker and listener. The coupling is a result of understanding each other. It is the physical and neural basis of mutual communication. Our brains synchronize when we’re communicating most effectively, we “click.”

A Tool for Better Communication

While each person’s brain is unique, the act of communication can align speaker and listener brain circuits. We know when we are “clicking” with a person or an audience. And we know when things are falling flat. How can a speaker increase the chances that the highest levels of coupling will occur?

The Process Communication Model® (PCM) offers an effective process to increase communication. It is designed to “promote understanding, recognition, prediction, and action.” When listeners are able to predict what the speaker will say next, the greatest level of brain coupling and comprehension occurs. Speakers and organization leaders can use PCM to increase the probabilities of coupling – of clicking and being in sync with their listeners. The researchers pose a challenge at the end of their original peer reviewed article suggesting that the next frontier is to find the behavioral correlates of neural coupling – in other words – what can people actually do to increase communication effectiveness and brain sync-ing? PCM might be one of the best current options available.

Hasson, U. (2010) I can make your brain look like mine. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved on Nov. 22, 2010 from

Stephens, G. J., Silbert, L. J., & Hasson, U. (2010). Speaker–listener neural coupling underlies successful communication. PNAS, August 10, 2010, 32: 14425-14430.

Kathleen Friesen is a Principal at Friesen Group. She blogs at and can be reached at

Next Element is a Unites States distributor of PCM. We train PCM and certify and support PCM trainers across the country.

PocketPCMTry the app. PocketPCM is a free app for Android and iOS with tips for using the “Communication Model PCM” to improve relationships.


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No, we aren’t talking about stage performances. We’re talking about the drama that causes a pit in your stomach, makes you want to scream, and sucks the life out of you like an energy vampire.

According to Gallup research, negative behavior costs the US economy more than $350 billion dollars annually in lost productivity. Add to this the psychological, physical, and emotional toll and the drag on our economy is unbelievable.

It’s easy to identify the behaviors of drama: gossip, secrets, triangulating, blaming, avoiding, blowing up…the list goes on. A working definition that helps us get a handle on it is a bit more difficult. Over the last ten years advising and training leaders on how to deal with negative workplace conflict, we’ve evolved this definition of drama.

Drama is what happens when people struggle against themselves or each other, with or without awareness, to feel justified about their negative attention behavior.

  • Drama is about struggling against. There’s always a winner and a loser. The fight may be internal, between people, or involving companies and nations.
  • Drama happens with or without awareness. How each person behaves in drama is predictable and habitual. It’s highly predicted by personality and amazingly consistent from day to day.
  • Feeling justified is the modus operandi in drama. If I’m in drama, my ultimate motivation is to be able to say “See, I was right!” This is why drama has such a negative impact on productivity; because people are spending energy trying to feel justified.
  • Drama is all about negative attention behavior. Humans need attention. Period. If we don’t get it in positive ways, we’ll get it negatively. It’s the next best thing, and far better than being ignored.

HelpWriteNextBookBeyond-Drama-Book-w_reflections-and-shadowThat’s our working definition, one that we introduced in our first book, Beyond Drama, and will continue to evolve in our next book. What’s your perspective? How does this fit with your experience? Does it provide any insights? If you’ve been exposed to our work, how has this definition worked for you? Will you leave a comment?


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Buy Nate’s book, Beyond Drama: Transcending Energy Vampires

Visit Nate’s Speaker Page, or contact us about booking Dr. Regier for a speaking engagement.



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