I had never heard of science writer Jeff Wise until I read one of his articles and decided to get his latest book. Extreme Fear: The Science of Your Mind in Danger describes the physiological and psychological aspects of fear and trauma. The book’s subject matter is fascinating but equally interesting is how this master journalist turns hard-to-grasp neurophysiology into language that connects with readers and communicates effectively.

I rarely read a book or listen to a speaker without observing how the message is communicated. Learning from others is a helpful way to improve our skills in teaching, writing, leading, and making a difference. Extreme Fear is about terror, anxiety, danger and the brain’s inner workings. It’s also about communicating well. It’s about connecting with words and verbally painting pictures even without images or power point slides. Jeff Wise:

  • Uses captivating stories.  Examples include a woman defending herself against a mountain lion and a pilot struggling to control his plane as a wing begins to detach.
  • Is a researcher who does his homework. He knows the research on fear and brings this into his writing frequently and effectively.
  • Gets involved with his subject matter without losing objectivity. To better understand fear research that studied first-time sky-divers, Wise volunteered to jump out of an airplane wearing sensors so he could experience what the research subjects felt.
  • Applies the research in practical ways that teach readers how to arm themselves and others against everyday fears.

The theme of Psychotherapy Networker (January 2010) was “Psychotherapy and the Brain: Are We Entering a New Era of Practice?” The articles argued that people helpers and leaders can be more effective if they understand nervous system physiology including how brains process trauma, change and decision making. Clearly written books and articles help build that understanding. We can’t all communicate like Jeff Wise. Sometimes we shouldn’t try. Research publications and formal lectures require a different style of communicating. But many problems, problem solving and career building issues relate to the brain and demand good communication, especially when our messages are difficult to grasp and share.

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