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What's Your Brain Style?

This article accompanies The Importance of Agility.

Thursday, February 7, 2013
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At New York-based professional-services firm Deloitte, senior partners and managers are learning how to better relate to people whose thinking and behaving differs from their own, thanks to a new course based, in part, on research by biological anthropologist Helen Fisher. As humans evolved, they developed four distinctive "brain styles," or ways of thinking and behaving, says Fisher, who's also a research professor at Rutgers University. These styles are based on brain chemicals such as dopamine, serotonin, testosterone and estrogen. Although these chemicals are present in everyone's brain, she says, people tend to express them to varying degrees.

"Once you understand which brain style someone is, you can begin to reach them in the world they live in," says Fisher, author of the 2009 book Why Him, Why Her: Finding Real Love by Understanding Your Personality Type.

Fisher, who's written five books over the years on topics such as the biology of love and has served an adviser to the online dating site Chemistry.com, has spent her career conducting extensive research into how biology and environment combine to shape the way people think about and respond to others.

People whose brain styles are heavily influenced by dopamine (whom Fisher dubs "Explorers"), for example,

tend to be risk-taking, novelty-seeking, curious, spontaneous and somewhat irreverent, she says.

Those influenced by serotonin ("Builders") tend to be calm, self-controlled, frugal, managerial and cautious. Those influenced more by testosterone ("Directors") tend to be analytical, logical, competitive, rank-oriented and decisive. And those influenced by estrogen ("Negotiators") tend to be imaginative, compassionate, verbal, intuitive and verbal.

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Following Why Him, Why Her's publication, Fisher was approached by Deloitte, which wanted to learn more about how these different brain styles affect the workplace.

The company ultimately ended up incorporating Fisher's work into a course for its senior managers, The Art of Empathy. In that course, students are asked to complete questionnaires to determine their own brain styles and learn how to communicate more effectively with people who have different brain styles.

"If you're a Builder and you're meeting with a Negotiator, then you'll know to focus on things like listening actively, finding points of agreement and smiling more," she says. "We can act out of character. It's tiring -- but we can do it."

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