WHEN MOTHER NATURE WAS HANDING OUT OXYTOCIN, THE SWISS MUST HAVE BEEN LAST IN LINE

OXYTOCIN is a powerful hormone that also acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain. It plays a huge role in human pair bonding and social interactions. When we hug or kiss a loved one, oxytocin levels increase and you feel that warm, comforting glow inside, which is why oxytocin is often referred to as “the love hormone”.

The etymology of the word – it comes from Greek and means “sudden delivery” – tells us even more about how powerful and essential to human existence this is. During the “sudden delivery” of a child, a woman produces oxytocin to help her bond with the very creature that has just been a part of causing her so much excruciating pain. Without oxytocin, who knows how many post-natal traumatized mothers would just demand that said creature be thrown down the drain along with the placenta it came with!

Oxytocin is produced whenever we “click” with people, whether it be at a social event or a business meeting, or when someone does a good deed for you. Oxytocin has also been shown to help increase empathy and emotional connection. Oxytocin is Mother Nature’s ultimate bonding agent for humans.

However, oxytocin was in definite short supply when I stopped off for a light lunch at a Swiss mountain cabin this summer.

I was on a 6-hour hike in the Swiss Alps with my Norwegian wife and three kids aged 13, 11, and 5. At the halfway point, we came to a log cabin café. I remember thinking how the smell of alpine forest wood, mixed with a hint of hot chocolate and fresh bread, would have been a suitable “aroma” for oxytocin, if oxytocin had an aroma, that is.

The café didn’t accept credit cards though. Fair enough. After all, we were in the middle of the mountains and Norwegians are often guilty of assuming that everyone else in Europe should have converted to a cash-free society by now. I did have some cash in my pocket – 43 Swiss Francs to be precise (45 US Dollars / 38 Euro) – which would normally be enough to buy sandwiches and drinks for a family of five in most other European rural cafés.

But with Swiss prices I realised that drinks would not be an option this time. No worries; an Alpine stream just outside meant that we could fill up our bottles with unlimited supply of pristine Swiss alpine water. Yet, even without the drinks, I was still 2 Swiss Francs short of being able to buy five sandwiches for five very hungry, tired people.

With my best apologetic, dewy-eyed face (think Puss in Boots in Shrek 2, I turned to the Swiss waitress and said hopefully: “We seem to be a couple of francs short.”

What happened next will forever be emblazoned on my memory. The waitress barely acknowledged my facial expression and instead focussed her attention on the menu.

“You could always go for the soup,” she suggested, “then you will have enough money.”

Now, I am not advocating that we welch on our commitments to pay for services rendered, or that it is OK to neglect to bring sufficient funds when one enters a place of business. However, in times of genuine need or “neglect”, there are certain cultures in the world that tend to focus more on the contractual obligations of the business transaction, while others focus more on the relational (human) aspects of it.

Example 1: I was on a cross-country skiing excursion in the Norwegian forest outside Oslo and arrived at a welcome log cabin café. As I went to pay, I discovered to my horror that I had lost my wallet. I asked the owner of the café if he could trust me enough to give me a bank account number so that I could transfer the money to his account when I got home later that evening. He agreed to trust me. Oxytocin rush. I transferred an extra 20% “tip” for his hospitality and generosity of spirit.

But Norway is a high-trust society, I hear you say. That would never have happened in other parts of the world, such as my home country of Italy. Wrong.

Example 2: I was on a biking day trip in Italy with two friends when we arrived at a rather remote restaurant desperate for some serious refuelling only to discover that NONE of us – I know, I know, mea culpa – NONE of us had brought ANY money with us! We presented our dilemma to the owner of the restaurant who, to our very pleasant surprise, agreed to fed and water us. If he had politely told us to go take a hike, I would not have thought any less of him. But what happened next astounded all of us.

The restauranteur refused to give us a bank account number so that we could pay him when we got home. Instead, he sent us on our way with one request: that we tell all our friends about the good food he served there. We did. Oxytocin OVERLOAD.

The above business dilemmas invite one of two business approaches. One of those approaches is to be correct, fair, predictable and consistent, as stated in the contract. The other approach, while not as predictable, consistent or “fair”, does encourage a somewhat more relational approach. It is this latter approach that will induce an increased production of oxytocin, which in turn enhances human pair-bonding.

In some of the more relationship-focused business cultures of the world, without this crucial “pair-bonding” in place, business transactions will be difficult if not near-on impossible. I know which one I try to focus on in MY daily business interactions. How about you?

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