How Does a Planner's Brain React to Change? Judith Glaser Tells the Tale

At opening session at FPA Retreat 2013, brain and behavior specialist implores planners to understand how their reaction affects their clients' reaction

The FPA Retreat 2013 kicked off in Palm Springs, Calif. on Saturday with an interactive presentation by brain and behavior specialist Judith Glaser titled “The Neuroscience of Change—Putting Conversational Intelligence to Work.”

“How do we process what’s around us to help us deal with change?” Glaser rhetorically asked at the beginning of the session. “People experience change differently when they are in healthy conversations about change.”

She related a conversation she once witnessed between a 9-year-old boy and an older gentleman. The boy was busy on a computer when the gentleman attempted to engage him. The gentleman asked where the boy went to school. The boy replied, “YouTube!” The gentleman thought he misunderstood and repeated the question. The boy said, “There are so many great things and wonders on YouTube, this is where I learn.” Taking a different tact, the man asked what the boy wanted to be when he grew up. The boy said, “Oh no, the world is changing much too fast, so no matter what I say I won’t end up being it anyway, so I’m just enjoying myself."

"The goal is too eventually get your clients to be as comfortable with change as this 9-year-old boy," she said.

Glaser than described a 2008 study in which individuals were given backpacks and told they were going to climb a mountain. Some of the individuals were grouped together and others were told to do it alone. Those that were in groups did not see the mountain as large or their backpacks as heavy as the solo trekkers.

She then asked how the financial planners in the audience respond to change. Was it fight or flight, freeze or appease?

“How you respond to change has a major impact on how your clients respond to change,” Glaser explained. “We either empower or disempower each other in our conversations by our positive or negative energy.”

Noting that rats have 99% of the same DNA as humans, she said an experiment put a family of rats together in a small space. The rats ended up eating each other and were all dead when the researchers returned the next day.

A second family of rats was put together, but this time with plenty of space. The rats eventually began to work together and collaborate.  

“The space of conversation impacts the quality of the conversation,” she said.

A similar experiment involved fish. Glaser said four fish were put into a bowl and all interacted. A piece of Plexiglas was then put in place that separated one fish from the other three. Eventually, the piece of Plexiglas was removed, but the three fish did not cross the imaginary line, and vice versa. Even when food was put on one side or another, the fish did not cross over.

“Your job is to create a safe space to have conversations and open up,” Glaser related from the anecdote. “A need to belong is one of the most powerful needs animals have. If someone feels rejected, it rewires the brain to perceive threats and barriers that night not be there, as with the fish and the Plexiglas.”

View complete AdvisorOne coverage of the FPA Retreat 2013 on our Retreat landing page.

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