Apr 4, 2022 2 min read

Conversations and effectiveness, conversational shit, and like fish in water

Level up your leadership. Each edition is a < 3 min read, & contains an original article summary, an actionable snippet, a set of reflection prompts, & a reading recommendation.​

Original Article Summary

In Conversations as an Actionable Pathway to Leadership Effectiveness, I explore how conversations are an under-rated leadership tool.

Leadership and communication can become vague, amorphous terms that we do not have an actionable approach to. One way to change that is to understand their underlying mechanics.

Like fish in water, language is obvious and close to us so we don’t pay much attention to it. It is the same with conversations. But usage and familiarity does not equate competence.

You can dramatically increase your effectiveness by paying attention to this core building block of managerial work.

Click here to read the entire article.

Actionable Snippet

While emphasizing the importance of language and leadership in The Phenomenology of Leadership, Chip Souba shares the framework of conversational “shit” that we as leaders can be prone to using, simply out of habit.

He writes:

Rorty contends that “we are nothing save the words we use”—there is no behind the scenes choreographer, there is just us and the words we choose.

Recognizing this, leaders stress to others the importance and power of language. ​They are aware what Fritz Perls refers to as the three kinds of conversational “shit” that we are likely to encounter while talking with people .

Chicken-shit is clichéd small talk that is devoid of actual information content and avoids emotional contact (for example, Hi-how’s-it-going-nice-day-how’s-the-family- good-to-see-you). ​

Bullshit talk refers to out-and-out lies that are told to conceal the truth, protect someone, and/or gain something. Bull shitters are opportunists; they tell falsehoods to promote themselves and their agenda. ​

Elephant-shit talk refers to grandiose plans that the conversationalist has no hope of fulfilling because the ideas are unrealistic.

This is a funny but equally insightful typology of conversations that highlights the realities of organizational life.

The Phenomenology of Leadership, is a long-form journal article that is a complete 180 from the typical leadership genre. While not an easy read, it can open up multiple, unexplored avenues to increase your leadership effectiveness.

If you are up for it click here to access the whole article.

Reflection Questions

During the week, pay attention to your conversations in light of the above framework.

  • How often do we fall into these typical “shit-cans” of conversations?
  • Why do we tend to do it rather than engage in deeper conversation?
  • Is it a lack of time or is it a defense mechanism?
  • What can we do to change it?​

Leader’s Library

This week’s recommendation: This is Water, a speech by David Foster Wallace.

I referenced this speech in my article above. While not directly talking about leadership, many of the aspects that he talks about are applicable to the self-development of the leader.

It is a slightly longer read but worth it’s weight in gold. If you prefer another medium, you can search youtube for audio versions of the same.

Click here for a pdf transcription of the whole speech. Enjoy the read.

That’s it for this edition. Have a great week!

– Sheril Mathews

Sheril Mathews
I am an executive/leadership coach. Before LS, I worked for 20 years in corporate America in various technical & leadership roles. Have feedback? You can reach me at sheril@leadingsapiens.com.
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