Skilful conversations with Brendan Spillane

15 March 2019

On the Monday, 11 March, the Sport Wellington Performance Hub hosted a breakfast presentation with world acclaimed-speaker, mentor and educator, Brendan Spillane.

Brendan bases his teachings on the idea that when we speak with clarity and openness, we can invite connection and engagement, challenge unhelpful assumptions and behaviours, and build on the social fabric of our teams and organisations.

Covering eight propositions, Brendan started his presentation with a slide, “Find smart people, with good intentions, who get stuff done – together”. In today’s environment, even though we are highly connected digitally, doing stuff ‘together’ is under pressure, he said.

A conversation is a ritual for building connectedness – talking to each other, in a meaningful way, makes a difference. Like sitting around the campfire talking, a group (or meeting) is only as strong as its talk.

The slides that Brendan showed during his presentation are available by clicking on the video at the bottom of this article - but they are slides only (not audio), so you do need to watch it in conjunction with the following notes:

Proposition 1 – A group is as strong as its talk
No matter how good your intent is, if it’s not narrated well (and translated well), you could be subverting your leadership.

The main alternatives to authentic, genuine dialogue are violence and silence – neither of which are good!

Proposition 2 – Leadership is fundamentally narrative
Enduring power comes from a focus on others; empathy, giving, expressing gratitude, and telling stories that
unite (Keltner, 2016).

Proposition 3 – Leaders have two journeys to make
Be yourself skilfully and show yourself, skilfully (being vulnerable and opening yourself up, makes you more approachable and relatable).

A leader’s language is particularly powerful. Your intention is not necessarily the impact that you have i.e. what is said is not what is heard because the listener has their own ‘history’ and stories around the meaning of what you’re saying. “When the amygdala gets hijacked it triggers the limbic brain...where all our old stories are stored.” (Glaser, 2014). This is where emotion can take over and make things seem personal.

Proposition 4 – The brain makes sense of the world in stories
The Ladder of Inference describes the thinking process that we go through, usually without realising it, to get from a fact to a decision or action. Before you jump to a conclusion, you want to make sure that your reasoning is based on facts. What happened? You then move up the ladder to ensure that your decision is founded on reality: situation, select data, assumptions, make meaning, form conclusions, adopt beliefs, take action (Argyris).

Proposition 5 – It is not about being nice, it is about being effective
Theory of Success (Adapted from Kim, 2018): Quality of relationships – Quality of thinking – Quality of talking – Quality of actions taken – Quality of results achieved.

Proposition 6 – The price of absence is exile
‘At a cafe a block from my home almost everyone is on a computer or smartphone as they drink their coffee. These people are not my friends, yet somehow I miss their presence.’ (Alone Together, Turkle, 2011)

Loneliness is a growing problem. Everyone is so connected digitally but unless we are authentically connecting, developing relationships, and genuinely talking to each other, we are not truly connecting.

Proposition 7 – It is not an accident when (work)places are great
High Performing Teams have: high trust – high-quality engagement, high engagement, high peer accountability, a focus on shared delivery.

Team members who trust one another, engage in conflict around ideas, gain commitment to decisions, and hold one another accountable are more likely to set aside their individual needs and agendas and focus on achieving collective results. They do not give in to the temptations to place their departments, career aspirations, or ego-driven status ahead of the collective results that define team success.

Proposition 8 – Everyone can be better at handling difficult conversations
The standard you walk past is the standard you accept (Gen. David Morrison). You need to deal with issues sooner rather than later. In addressing the issue you are being loyal to the future of that person, you are helping them. Avoiding the issue isn’t helping them.

How do you deal with high-performing bad citizens? They’re great at what they do but have negative traits which are impacting on the rest of the team – so a conversation needs to be had! Acknowledge their performance but challenge their citizenship, i.e. “I know that you’re working really hard and it’s great that you’re hitting the targets, but I’ve noticed that you’ve been ..... and the impact this is having on the team is ....”

The fundamentals of skilful conversations.
Remember, nothing is personal. Shift your energy so that you don’t take things personally.

‘Everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.’



Brendan Spillane