Paul Zak is a professor at Claremont Graduate University, founder and Chief Immersion Officer at Immersion Neuroscience, and Senior Scientific Advisor at CancerLife. Over a decade ago, Paul and his team discovered that the neurochemical oxytocin was the driver of trust, love, and morality that distinguish our humanity. In his quest to understand the neuroscience of human connection and happiness, he dedicated two decades of his life to brain research, which took him from the Pentagon, to Fortune 50 boardrooms, and the rainforests of Papua New Guinea. Paul is also an accomplished speaker and author. His second book, Trust Factor: The Science of Creating High Performance Companies, explores the neurochemistry behind toxic organizational cultures, and how we can harness that neurochemistry to build effective workplaces with trust, joy, and commitment.
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- Marcel asks Paul to talk about his background. “My goal in my professional life is to create technologies and knowledge to help people curate their lives for greater happiness,” Paul shares. [3:22]
- Oxytocin has numerous effects on our behavior, Paul finds. The more you trust someone, the more oxytocin your brain produces, and that prompts you to reciprocate good deeds and hospitality. Additionally, oxytocin increases your sense of empathy and reduces physiological stress. It allows you to feel comfortable within a group or community, which lends itself spectacularly to teamwork and organizational performance. [6:44]
- “Trust is a set of behaviors, not a feeling state,” Paul clarifies. Marcel asks him to describe how he and his team created the survey instrument they used to study several thousand companies. “Once we identified the sets of behaviors that were relevant to trust within organizations, we created this survey… [a lot of] companies let us come in and take blood from their employees to measure oxytocin levels. Then, we collected data from a huge swath of the US population to identify how these behaviors improved the performance of those organizations,” he explains. [12:14]
- We’re not out of the pandemic yet, Marcel comments. Research proves that the sudden shift to remote work and all the challenges it entails has had negative effects on people’s mental health, making it a crucial issue for organizations to address. He asks Paul where holistic development falls under the oxytocin umbrella. “The precursor for trust is psychological safety,” Paul replies. “If I am so stressed out that I’m just holding on with my fingernails, I’m not going to connect to those around me or have the bandwidth to be an effective employee.” He discusses how a high trust model influences holistic development. [20:15]
- According to Paul, building caring relationships at work is an opportunity to expand your social network, which is where most of life’s satisfaction comes from. He explores the concept of trust and accountability, and why one does not negate the other. [26:31]
- Uncertainty manifests itself in the brain exactly like stress, which is an inhibitor of trust. “Humans don’t like uncertainty… if they don’t [have the relevant information], humans [run the rumor mill] and use bandwidth on that rather than focusing on creating value for the organization,” Paul claims. “I can reduce that rumor mill if I share information broadly.” [28:04]
- “If you think about the investment you can make to improve performance, trust is a fairly inexpensive dimension with high returns,” Paul advises. “Think about creating a culture where your high performers can thrive, grow, feel recognized and have the opportunity to control their work lives.” He shares why leaders should personalize their efforts to recognize high performers. [31:50]
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