What keeps us human

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Our survival depends on two complementary nervous systems: the sympathetic and the parasympathetic systems. We have all heard of the sympathetic system before, however, we know it by another name: fight-or-flight.

Our fight-or-flight response has always kept us alive. It keeps us aware of dangers and prompts us to hunt and gather.

But it’s our parasympathetic system that keeps us human. Better known as the tend-and-befriend response, it drives us to form relationships, cooperate with one another and build communities.

From an organizational viewpoint, many of our businesses operate in fight-or-flight mode. While we need this response to innovate and compete against outside forces, workplaces inadvertently force employees to respond to one another this way as well – creating stress, fear and disengagement.

By building the knowledge, skills and practices to promote our tend-and-befriend response, we encourage information sharing, collaboration and relationship building that is integral to high performance and engagement.

If you want to build a culture that is both competitive and long-lasting, you must fuel both systems. You must direct the fight-or-flight response outward and nurture the tend-and-befriend inward. Master this, and you’re well on your way to a healthy organization.