Phil Harkins book on powerful conversations starts promising*. “All leaders talk. It is the power of their talk that determines whether they win or lose.” Exactly. Harkins is professor and CEO of Linkage Inc., a world leader in leadership & organisation development. What’s the secret of powerful conversations?
Harkins sees three outcomes of powerful conversations: advancement of an agenda, shared learning and a stronger relationship. A good conversation ‘helps’, gives you something new and strengthens the relation. At the core of a good dialogue is listening. Harkins mentions Kennedy as a listener with extreme intentness: “he didn’t obviously have ideas in his own mind which he wanted to expound. He really listened to what one said and answered that.” Listening is about being empty and available. Without listening conversations become a swamp of comments, complaints, accusations, rumor and criticism.
The rest of the book is a typical American cocktail of simple recipes and anecdotes. 4 Principles to become a great listener. 4 Phases to climb the tower of power. 5 Rules for handling difficult conversations, the 4 C’s of trust, and so on. This behavioral and instrumental approach of conversations works probably fine in a training course on communication skills, but it doesn’t bring us closer to the organisational power and magic of more authentic communication.
*Harkins, P. (1999). Powerful conversations. McGraw-Hill, 192 p.