Carole Osterweil

Podcast Episode #168: Carole Osterweil – What does neuroscience have to do with project management?

Futureproof Your Career
Futureproof Your Career
Podcast Episode #168: Carole Osterweil – What does neuroscience have to do with project management?

Podcast Episode #168: Carole Osterweil – What does neuroscience have to do with project management?

Just take five deep breaths. 

We’ve all heard this advice when we’ve been stressed or overwhelmed or anxious. But do you know why it helps us relax and focus? In this podcast, Elise Stevens speaks with coach Carole Osterweil about why it’s especially important if we want to make better choices at work.

How do you lead projects which are tricky in unconventional ways? How do you deliver results when the goalposts keep shifting? What about when the political situation changes? And how should you respond when your project isn’t going the way the textbooks promised?

As Carole explains, how we respond to threats at work is wired deep inside our brains.

Points raised in this podcast with Carole Osterweil:

  • Understanding how the brain works helps us understand human behaviour.
  • Our brain’s number one priority is survival, and it doesn’t just look out for physical threats but also emotional threats like the ones you might not realise you encounter at work.
  • Social threats according to the SCARF model include: our Status being under threat, not being Certain of what’s happening next, having our Autonomy taken away, our Relatedness to the team and how we perceive the Fairness of the exchanges between people around us.
  • Our brains are wired to respond to threats with either a fight, flight or freeze response.
  • At work, responses to these threats might manifest as defensiveness, withdrawal, or hesitation to engage constructively with the team.
  • Once we recognise this is normal human behaviour, we can respond in different ways, and adjust our reactions to others’ behaviour.
  • Psychological safety means being able to show oneself without fear of negative consequences including rejection, humiliation or career uncertainty.
  • Leaders should work to ensure team members feel safe to talk openly about projects.
  • People who feel psychologically safe aren’t wasting energy on fight, flight or freeze and can focus on the job that needs to be done, therefore improving productivity.
  • Deep breathing can help suppress the fight or flight instinct.
  • Practising mindfulness can help you check in with your stress levels and how you might be able to relax and focus to make better choices rather than knee-jerk reactions. 


About Carole Osterweil:

Carole is a trouble-shooter and coach who works with executives and project delivery teams who are seeking higher productivity and better outcomes with less stress.

She runs Visible Dynamics where her current projects include work with Cranfield University and PA Consulting to increase the UK government’s senior project and program management capability – so she knows first-hand what leading projects during turmoil is all about.

She is the author of Project Delivery, Uncertainty and Neuroscience – A Leader’s Guide to Walking in Fog. You can connect with Carole on LinkedIn.


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