Conversational Intelligence by Judith E Glaser
The concept of multiple types of intelligence was pioneered by Howard Gardner in the 1980s. It has always appealed to me and it is increasingly apparent in the new world of work that we reside in that intellectual intelligence alone is not sufficient.
In an hierarchical organisation during the Industrial Revolution, commands flowed down from the top and people were told to make more widgets and they did. The outputs required from most workplaces have shifted in the last two centuries but the organisational structures and the leadership styles have not changed at the same pace.
There is a desperate need for leaders to be more flexible in their styles and for organisations to change structures. Judith's book makes a great contribution to this need. She focuses on the skills required to conduct conversations that build trust and partnership. By analysing both the structure of our conversation and the impact that we have on the brain, drawing on new insights from neuroscience, she provides a mechanism for leaders to be more effective in transforming their teams and organisations
We are living in times of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA). At the heart of this book is the concept that we are hardwired to deal with uncertainty either by utilising protective behaviours to ensure our individual survival or trust behaviours that allow us to bond with others and collectively deal with the problem. Distrust can seem to protect us in the short term, but leaders who build conversational intelligence will build trust and create lasting success.
I like the way the author weaves in findings from the world of science. For example the concept of mirror neurons the activation of which manifests itself as empathy, or the function of the FOXP2 gene. There is much talk about the different regions of the brain, the reptilian, the mammalian and the human brain; concepts people familiar with emotional intelligence will be aware of. There's a discussion around why gut instinct really is valid - the links between the brain and other parts of the body such as the gut or the heart play a major role in the way we interact with others. From this, Judith introduces her Five Brain Model
The book is well structured; deconstructing the anatomy of conversations to come up with some practical tips and tools to support leaders to build trust more quickly and create effective relationships. Any aspect of work needs to be well-planned, well-managed and well-controlled. However, I am sure we all have examples of projects that have failed miserably despite being well-intentioned and planned to the nth degree - and often that failure is due to the leader's inability to connect with the emotions and the people. Or simply forgetting, in the excitement of the great impact they know the work will have, that sustained success only comes when you have the people on board with you.
Self-evident, I know, and yet we all fall into this same trap, or have clients who do. This book should serve as a reminder to leaders of the need to change the way they lead to have better interactions with the team and as a consequence, be more successful, both personally and for their team and organisation.
There are some nice models and concepts and some amusing and impactful ways of looking at our worst conversations; I particularly liked the Tell-Sell-Yell Syndrome, the most vicious trap any leader can get caught in. The author also brings in some of the new findings from neuroscience, reinforcing and extending our knowledge about trust and distrust. I like the way the author uses the metaphor; we know the value of this when deployed by leaders and it's good to see this being modelled in the book. For example the idea that the brain puts together old memories into a new, often scary, movie, and, like all good movies, it's entirely plausible whilst at the same time being fundamentally fiction.
I'm also a sucker for a good acronyms and the one that Judith uses around trust is a really helpful way of breaking down the steps you that a leader needs to take to build or rebuild that trust. FORCES is another useful one for looking at the relationships you have with others. The book also has a great and very interesting section on the rituals that happened during conversations, and how we can create the foundations the great conversations by tapping into these practices. Key to this is treating other people with respect, even where our opinions differ. This fits in well with two of the principles in The Forton Group's Professional Leadership Coach Training Programme - the principle of partnership and one that we call Accept, Blend and Create, evolved from the acting improvisation technique of Yes And.
Judith introduces three levels of Conversational Intelligence - I see parallels here with different levels of high performing behaviours in our leadership model around the behaviour of influence. I was attracted to the concepts in this book because of the huge impact such approaches can make on the success of leaders, organisations and teams.
What I find exciting about this book though is that it is not just a neat model to learn that will improve communication; it's telling us that conversations trigger physical and emotional changes in the brain. . They have the power to open us up to creating a feel good environment or close us down into a place of fear and mistrust - and that impacts all partners in the conversation.
Conversational intelligence is a critical skill for leaders and Judith's book is a great way to hone that skill