Your brain at work – and what this can mean for you


Your Brain at Work is a book by Dr David Rock, a co-founder of the Neuroleadership Institute. It’s also the name of the Institute’s podcast.

The Neuroleadership Institute is dedicated to “Making Organizations More Human Through Science” and helping organizations “become smarter through more adaptive, resilient and inclusive leaders at all levels.”

Using brain science to achieve these goals is relatively new, and certainly not something I had come across before – other than the occasional references to scientific research in the more general conversations about organisational psychology and management practice.

Who is it useful for?

This content would suit readers who may have a psychological injury or disability; or a person whose disability makes working in a stressful work setting that much more difficult.

The book has a great deal to say about how to manage stress through developing an understanding of what is going on in your brain in a variety of scenarios. Being able to be aware of when built-in reflexes are being triggered gives the reader an opportunity to disrupt the reflex with a more intentional response.

The key message is that some experiences that trigger a ‘threat’ or ‘pain’ response don’t have to be responded to by just letting the brain follow a pattern rooted in its ancient past. At a basic level we have a binary response – away from or toward. We move away from danger and toward what is good.

These responses are unconscious to us because we have developed ‘explanations’ that we tell ourselves to justify how we reacted. We don’t know that we are responding to basic sensations of threat and pain.

We can learn to be aware of what is driving a reflexive response and we can choose to create a conscious evaluation of the level and nature of the threat or pain. This can begin with naming the feeling – “I feel threatened” or “I feel hurt”. That’s not something we may be good at doing – men especially.

Also useful for handling exclusion

I was interested to learn that the brain sees being excluded as something that causes pain. It is injurious. It is also a threat to our wellbeing. The extent to which brain-based senses of belonging and connecting are fundamental to our feelings of wellbeing was a surprise to me. 

Nobody likes feeling excluded, we all know the emotion that is triggered, even briefly. It is a flash of emotional distress that originates in our brains. Knowing this means we have a chance of better self-managing how we respond, and how we feel.

This isn’t a panacea to make exclusion okay. It’s a way of making an experience less painful than it might otherwise be. Its’s self-protective.


Your Brain at Work is a fascinating insight into the way in which our brain responds to challenges at work. Allowing a response to progress unmodified can set in place a chain of unintended consequences. Other people respond to a threat response with a threat response – and an unfortunate situation can escalate into an awful one.

The book is structured to take the reader through a series of scenarios that demonstrate what can happen when a response is unchecked, and then what can happen when checks are put in place.

It helped me to better understand my responses to stress and threat. And it made me more aware of the importance of the conscious choice between going with an instinctive flow, and taking responsibility for my reactions. It also helped me understand why inclusion is so important – for the psychological and physical health of ourselves and our colleagues.

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