Merit Career Development Blog | Entries from June 2014

Our Brains on Training

Regions and Processes of the BrainWhat is really happening in our brain when we learn?

The way our brains process information has huge implications for those of us who design corporate training and other adult education experiences. Our awareness of the principles of neuroscience, and their application in "brain-friendly training" can make the difference between a program that is simply enjoyable and one whose content is retained and applied to improve job performance. Improved performance usually brings financial success and recognition by a company that their investment in training was worth it. "In order to achieve the desired ROI on training, we must design and deliver training that becomes integrated into long-term memory," explains John Juzbasich, D.Ed(c), MLD and CEO of Merit Career Development.1

Learning produces physical changes in the brain

What does learning look like?

Research has shown that information we receive goes through four distinct regions of the brain; indeed, using modern imaging techniques we can actually see information moving through the brain.

The four regions are:

  1. Sensory Region - Information is first filtered here. Incoming data is processed by our five senses. This is the region for gathering information.
  2. Back Integrative Region - Here, bits of data are connected over time, associations become apparent, and understandings grow. This is where our brain makes meaning of the information we receive by connecting the new information with our past experiences and beliefs. This is the region for reflecting on the information we gathered.
  3. Front Integrative Region - Here, we consciously manipulate data to plan what we'll do with it. We are creating new ideas.
  4. Motor Region - This part of the brain sends signals for the body to act on the information it has received. This is the region for testing our understanding.

In addition, there are chemicals in the brain that produce emotions that affect the four regions and hence modify the strength of each step of the learning cycle. According to research by James E. Zull2, professor of Biology and Director of the University Center for Innovation in Teaching and Education at Case Western Reserve University, the frequent firing and exposure to the chemicals of emotion lead to great change in neuronal networks; that change is the physical evidence that learning has taken place.

If learners gather, reflect, create and test, and if their emotions are engaged at each step with fun, memorable activities, they will have used their whole brains!

Now that we know about how the brain learns, how can we produce those physical changes in learners’ brains? How can we maximize their participation to make our training stick?

  • Keep changing what the learner sees.
  • Include as many senses as you can.
  • Limit the amount of content to only what is needed, because they will not make sense of the information until subsequent stages.

  • Know your audience.
  • Provide many opportunities for them to connect the new information and challenges to what they already know and care about.
  • Use multiple analogies and examples to help recall of prior knowledge.
  • Ask them to put their thoughts into writing, or to predict the outcome of a scenario.
  • Learners will attach new things to their existing neuronal networks to generate more complete understanding. Juzbasich says that from the learner’s perspective, what is not connected, or not relevant, gets thrown out!

  • Draw out the connections the learners are making and enable them to create deeper knowledge from the new information.
  • Use examples that are relevant and suggest comparisons with their daily work.
  • Tell stories that resonate with what’s important to the group. Perhaps ask, "How will you use what you’re learning with your client?" "How did you handle this situation in the past and what has changed now?" "What does this make you think of?"
  • These strategies help learners to call upon their prior knowledge and create tests for the new concepts.

  • Offer opportunities for meaningful practice that involve moving the body in some way. Don’t forget, talking is a motor activity. Neurons that fire a lot during activity tend to form more connections and strengthen new connections.
  • Don't stop at drilling and repetition, because neurons stop firing when something simply becomes habit.
  • Ask learners to share their thoughts with others. Ask progressively more complex questions.
  • Have pairs or groups act out a scenario; play increases retention.
  • Provide simulations that engage them and test whether their understanding of the information will be adequate in the "real world."
  • Provide encouragement and feedback.

Merit Career Development offers professional courses planned with close attention to how learners’ brains work. Every in-person, web conferencing, or computer-based experience can be customized for your specific situation and can incorporate elements from your workplace. Review some of our offerings and contact us to learn more.

1 Juzbasich, John, D.Ed(c), MLD “Make Training Stick”, American Society for Training and Development Philadelphia Chapter Meeting, King of Prussia, PA, March 12, 2014, (Invited Speaker).
2Zull, James E., "The Art of the Changing Brain"
Fernandez, Alvaro. "The Art of Changing the Brain: Interview with Dr. James Zull"

Merit's July 2004 Book Giveaway

Think Like A Freak
Just published May 2014
The New York Times bestselling Freakonomics changed the way we see the world, exposing the hidden side of just about everything. Now, in their latest book, Think Like a Freak, Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner take us inside their thought process and teach us all to think a bit more productively, more creatively, more rationally-to think, that is, like a Freak. (

This Giveaway is Now Closed

Leverage Personality Differences in the Workplace

Managing introverted and extraverted employees calls for customized meetings and discussions that cater to each personality typeWithin every organization, employees range in personality types from professionally outgoing to socially reserved. Managing a mix of extraverts and introverts can be a challenge, but encouraging each personality type’s strengths and encouraging both groups to understand these dynamics is key.


By nature, extraverts are energized by being around others and that enthusiasm translates as an outgoing personality. Roughly 75 percent of the US population is extraverted.

Common extravert traits:
  • Directed outward toward people and things
  • Relaxed and confident
  • Gregarious, want to be with others
  • "What you see is what you get"
  • Process outward: Speaks to think ("shoots from the hip")
  • Seek variety and action
  • Often act quickly, sometimes without thinking


On the other hand, although introverts can interact with people skillfully, over time their energy will deplete faster than an extravert. They then need "down time" to "recharge their batteries."

Common introvert traits
  • Directed inward toward concepts and ideas
  • Reserved and questioning
  • Seek quiet for concentration
  • Need time alone to recharge and think
  • Have valuable contributions, but may hesitate to speak
  • Process inward: Thinks to speak
  • Likes to think a lot before acting, sometimes without acting!

Understanding different perspectives is critical to effective team building

Extraverts often see themselves as actionable people who work successfully with others but they can be quick to implement tactics that are untested or poorly thought out. Introverted employees often view their extraverted counterparts as noisy and impulsive, actively working to solve a problem, but making many mistakes along the way.

Introverts often perceive their thought processes as more complex, and they often think deeply before sharing their thoughts. More outgoing employees might think their quiet coworkers aren’t spontaneous enough or are slow to respond, leaving them hard to integrate into solution-oriented discussions and team projects.

Because each personality type has a different perspective of the environment, managers should approach meetings with each in separate manners to promote success. Catering to both introvert and extravert tendencies serves to facilitate teamwork, creating better-prepared employees, communications and outcomes.

So how do you manage these two different types of personalities?

Extraverts: Let 'em talk

When meeting with extraverts, managers should allow time for discussion without the necessity of reaching conclusions. Extraverts learn and retain information better when there are active conversations. They tend to "think out loud."

During a team meeting, managers should greet everyone as he or she comes into the room and conduct introductions. Because extraverts typically think faster - although not thoroughly -and tend to have shorter attention spans, it's useful to break up presentations with questions and answer or discussion periods and other exercises. After it's over, leaders should allow time for feedback and conversations with presenters to encourage input.

Additionally, putting extraverts into groups and planning active outings can facilitate their professional development.

Introverts: Let 'em think

Contrary to extraversion, managers should allow introverted employees more time before expecting an answer. Because introverts spend more time reflecting before responding, team leaders may want to hold back before asking for possible solutions. Instead of forcing introverts into groups, leaders could sit one-on-one with them.

To ensure that the opinions of introverts are captured during meetings, managers should provide all participants with an agenda and conduct polls before the meeting, especially regarding important matters. Anyone who hasn't responded in discussions can be prompted for input with lead time to encourage eventual participation. Once the meeting has ended, leaders can summarize the next steps and distribute the materials via email.

A useful tip: Always call on introverts last when soliciting comments during or after a meeting. This gives them additional time to consider other participants' responses and formulate their own with more confidence.

Finally, it's important for managers to realize that people who are outgoing aren't always extraverts, and shyness doesn't necessarily indicate introversion. Most people display a range of these characteristics, although they lean toward one type or the other. The optimal brainstorming teams are comprised of people with diverse skills and perspectives.

It's up to managers to engage each type of team member, regardless of personality, to ensure their optimal contributions are realized.

For more information about how Merit Career Development can help with your teams, please contact us.

Infographic: Keys to Improving Decision-Making

In just the few minutes it will take you to review these graphically presented facts, you will gain a good sense of the factors and issues that impact our decision-making. When we pause to understand these, we can literally improve the outcome of our decisions.

Feel free to share this graphic on your own website, through social media or by email. Just click on the code below the graphic to copy for your own use. Of course, there is a lot more detail and guidance available for your team or organization on decision-making and other leadership enhancing strategies. At Merit Career Development we offer on-site, virtually-led and on-demand programs that help improve communications, productivity and impact the bottom line. For more information, contact us.

Improve Decision-Making: all rights reserved Merit Career Development 2014


Feel free to share this infographic on your website by copying and pasting the code below. To share this on social media, please see the links below the post. Thanks!

Close the Deal with the Right Frame

Framing in SalesAlthough the wrong frame in the wrong situation can lead to bad decisions, using the right frame can be beneficial in closing sales with prospective customers.

In her seminal 1996 book, “The Power of Framing: Creating the Language of Leadership,” Gail Fairhurst, Ph.D., explains that when we communicate through framing, we shape the reality of a situation. Our past experiences and perspective create a frame through which we perceive the world and which guide our decision-making. However, the wrong frame in the wrong situation can lead to bad decisions. As Fairhurst explains, through effective framing and use of language, we can become better leaders because we are relating to our followers better and, therefore, being more persuasive.

When it comes to selling products and services to prospective customers, frames can interfere with making the sale. But they can also have a positive effect when used appropriately.

Framing for Positive Outcomes

During the sales process, associates need to be cognizant of the potential buyer’s own frame and how it affects how he or she makes purchases. Many buyers may be hesitant to commit, and these objections can result in failures and frustrations. To navigate the buyer’s hesitations, salespeople need to frame their interactions—drawing on the customer’s wants and needs—to make the customer care about what they’re selling.

Appealing to emotions is essential to the sales process, the buyer should feel good about his or her decision to purchase the product. The salesperson should focus on putting positive twists on perceived negatives, as they can affect how customers react to a sales pitch.

“The Framing of Decisions and the Psychology of Choice,” written by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky and published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, touched upon the psychological principles of framing. The authors’ posit that people are more influenced by the pain of loss rather than the rewards of gain and will take greater risks to avoid loss than to see potential gain. By framing a pitch around eliminating the threat of loss, salespeople have a greater chance at success.

An effective framing sales pitch puts an emphasis on the outcome, showing prospective clients that they will experience a positive change from purchasing the salesperson’s product or service. While framing can be problematic when used inappropriately, with professional coaching it can be leveraged during the sales call. Creating context for the potential buyer can be the difference between losing or closing the deal.