The Big Idea
In a nutshell: the process of offering (help) builds emotional intelligence and connection with others.
The gifts we tend to most value are the ones that are thought through, that are personal. The ones that help us feel that someone has really ‘gets’ or understands us. We’d suggest most of us get satisfaction too from giving gifts that we believe shows to those who we are giving them to, that we have really though about them. As they unwrap the present we wait with expectancy to see their reaction, whether or not it will confirm our thoughts and feelings about that person and whether we were ‘right’ in our assessment of the gift we gave.
Receiving gifts is one of Gary Chapman’s 5 Love Languages. Another is acts of service. Both involve a degree of emotional intelligence. Arguably the other love languages including quality time, words of affirmation and physical touch, also require a degree of giving from one or both parties.
So giving of these ‘languages’ is a 2-way process – with emotional and sometimes physical benefits to receivers and givers. What makes this different from random acts of kindness in #Tip 26’s Ripple Effect, is that it requires a far more involved process than the one off acts of general generosity. It is really about stoking the fires of relationships. The process of offering means that you have to invest in seeing what someone else’s needs are (or might be) by noticing them and more fully putting yourself in another’s shoes, then thinking of something that could help them, in a way that they prefer to be helped. Sure this can start as ‘random acts’ but ultimately sustained offering is about deliberately building little and often. It also requires an agreement: an offer can, and should, be possible to turn down. A random act can be very much a one way action with little to no real interaction.
The actual thing that you are offering can actually seem fairly trivial. The keys to ‘offering’ is in the intention and frequency, which is generally accumulative – building relationships. So ‘offering’ is a more complex process than you might first think.
Like so many things the real juice from this tip is in the effort and process (the squeeze) to get it.
Got it…What’s the Science
This is another tip that is so based around us being relational beings. To paraphrase John Donne: ‘nobody is an island’.
When we watch other people doing things we actually have centres and cells in our brains that ‘mirror’ these actions as if we were doing them, but at a much lower level of activation – in that they don’t initiate you doing the action immediately. These have been coined ‘mirror neurones’. Mirror neurones are still controversial in that we believe that exist but it is not practical or ethical to use electrodes to search for them and more non-invasive techniques like brain imaging don’t yet have the acuity to see and differentiate of single neurone activity.
A mirror neurone is, as quoting from an American Psychological Association article, “a type of brain cell that respond equally when we perform an action and when we witness someone else perform the same action”. Their existence, even as just conceptual entities, is what allows us to imitate and learn by imitating from others and probably involved in helping us to decipher the intention of others. Together, as systems, mirror neurones enable us to reflect others’ facial expressions, actions, body language and emotions.
The observation of others activates our mirror neurones (mirror systems), that mean we literally start using our brain wiring to live out what another person is going through. This is particularly the case if we are interested and invested in that person or their actions. This is why the study of mirror neurones has been of particular interest to elite and performance sport. Even just watching sports on the TV means your brain is mirroring actions in your head! This is regularly in army and healthcare services in training, where individuals are ‘drilled’ with a maxim of ‘watch one, do one, teach one’ or ‘watch, imitate, demonstrate (test)’ – to help acquire, learn and pass on best practice. Prof Ramachandran suggests that it is mirror neurones that helped us as a species to make developmental leaps beyond the conventional evolutionary emergence of abilities.
By simply learning these responses allows even those with high functioning autism to learn appropriate responses. It is the emotional link and exchange that can be harder, even seemingly impossible, to convert or feel for those with autism.
When we make the link between what someone else is doing, or trying to do, and we are invested, or want to be invested, in a relationship with that person oxytocin (the bonding or hormone) is involved. An EEG study published in 2010 by Prof Richard Ebstein and others suggest that oxytocin can actually help activate the mirror neurone system. As such oxytocin may actually be a therapeutic approach for those with autism.
When we are seen or valued then we receive a ‘virtual hug’ – in Transactional Analysis terms these are called ‘pats’ and ‘strokes – these are not physical actions but meta-physical ones. The suggestion is that we need sufficient number of ‘pats’ and ‘strokes’ a day to survive, let alone thrive. Again this could be why isolation is so difficult for most of us and why solitary confinement is used as a form of torture. Thing is, in offering an action that validates and supports another we mirror this hug (pat or stroke) ourselves too and receive the immediate benefits ourselves which could include more oxytocin and sense of being loved or at least appreciated! The more apt (salient) the offer of help – and we find this out by how the receiver receives the offer like us watching them ‘unwrap’ the gift – the more this hit is likely to be for both parties and so the greater the relational benefits that result.
One last thing on the science. It is important that this is a genuine exchange or offer that can be turned down by the potential ‘receiver’ – person you are trying to help. If an offer, even as simple as can I carry that for you?, is made as or becomes a demand, then we provoke a threat response from the other person. This makes the person feel under appreciated or valued and more wary of you in the future. In David Rock’s SCARF model of wellbeing in the workplace, ‘A’ stands for Autonomy – being able to have control and ownership of one’s own actions. For those with a love language of ‘receiving gifts’, this can be hard to moderate because they can really can struggle to see why someone else wouldn’t want that gift or offer – and so end up by giving or offering it more forcefully. The sad irony is, if we don’t allow someone to turn down our offer, we ultimately weaken, even damage, rather than strengthen the relationship we are trying to build.
So this ‘mirroring’ is important in and for both offerers and receivers and a foundational in building and maintaining healthy relationships and self-esteem, even status, in our social groups and interactions. We suggest that the more you practice the habit of ‘offering’ the more exercise you give to your emotional intelligence brain ‘circuits and’, with the greater feedback you will get as to what works from regular receivers, means you will improve your social and emotional intelligence and capabilities – with the very welcome added benefit of feeling valued, even loved, in the process!
Watch our #Tip51 on the Instagram Live Recording….
With Dulcie, DigitalJen and Dr Iain sporting 52Project hoodies – a gift from DigitalJen…
The connection between oxytocin and autism, explained – online article by Peter Hess (2022)
Cognition and behavior: Oxytocin improves sensitivity to social cues – online article by Jessica Wright (2010)
For this tip to work we believe you have to be authentic with your offer. You need to be invested enough to follow through with your offer to help in the way that you said that you would and / or has been agreed upon.
So be genuine with what you offer.
It can also be hard not to overcommit here! We (Dulcie, Jen and Dr Iain) have personalities that like to help others but this can mean we can’t physically honour all the offers that we make, which can unfortunately undermine or intention to help. So do try to be selective and realistic with what you offer and when here too.
An offer has to be just that. An invitation that can be respectfully turned down with as much ease as possible. Forcing someone to accept your offer makes it a demand and a demand is not an offer! So: be prepared to follow through on an offer – be genuine and it’s more than OK for others to say no (thank you).
Watch this space… Why not tell us some of your ‘offer’ stories here…
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