Keynote 4: Engaging and communicating with the brain in mind

Peter Kennedy

Presented by: Peter Kennedy (Ernst & Young)

Run time: 42:03

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Keynote 4: Engaging and communicating with the brain in mind

Presented by: Peter Kennedy (Ernst & Young)

[Start of transcript]

Madonna King:

And now to our final speaker of today. A registered psychologist with more than a decade of health, safety and wellbeing consulting experience, Peter Kennedy is a senior manager at Ernst & Young and focuses on long-term health, safety and wellbeing strategies that align workplace engagement, psychology of risk- and business-specific priorities, everything we’ve been talking about today.

And today he’s going to help us understand the importance of communication and provide an introduction to basic brain mechanisms of powerful engaging communication. So how do we connect and make our message resonate? Let’s find out. Ladies and gentlemen, Peter Kennedy.

(Applause)

Peter Kennedy:

Okay, well based on those survey results we’re going to extend this by a few minutes if that’s okay with people.

(Laughter)

I saw people outside have the moral dilemma of, ‘Well, do I stay and listen to this keynote? The early bird parking has kicked in. Easier to pick the kids up, but if I don’t stay then I don’t get my flowers or my gift if I win the lucky door prize’. So folks hopefully I can make the next 25-30 minutes of value to you.

Considering we’re about to talk communication with the brain in mind, I think it would be remiss if we didn’t start off with one or two short little brain activities given that it’s sort of 3:30 in the afternoon. Get our brains back up to operating temperature after you’ve had a cannoli. Does that sound okay? You can do this as you’re sitting down if that’s alright.

Let’s start off with can everyone just raise their right foot off the ground and get your ankle turning. You probably can’t see me, but I’m trying to get my ankle and my foot turning in a clockwise direction. So just take your foot off the ground, right foot – it’s got to be your right foot – get it turning in a clockwise direction. As you continue to do that, bring your right index finger up just in front of you. Everyone okay? That’s just two tasks so far. Yep. So right clockwise direction with your foot, right index finger in the air. Now just draw a six.

(Laughter)

How did you go? I’ll take laughter as some kind of empirical evidence. The second one, which has actually got a link to this presentation in terms of powerful communication, I’m going to invite you to turn to the person next to you. I’m only going to give you about 20 seconds to do this given the timeframe that I’ve got. There’s two rules of engagement. Here’s what’s going to happen. You’re going to have a conversation with this person, but two rules of engagement. The first rule is you can only talk in questions. So some of you might have played this game before if you’ve seen shows like Whose Line is it Anyway. They often do this task.

So someone’s going to ask you a question, and then you must respond to that person with another question. You cannot answer in fact or statement. You cannot respond. So if someone says, ‘Pete, how are you?’ I cannot say, ‘I’m good thanks. How are you,’ because I’ve answered their question. So I don’t want you to answer. I need you to respond with a question. So it would look like, ‘Pete, how are you?’ I’d go, ‘Why do you want to know?’ And they would say, ‘Why are you avoiding my question?’, and the conversation could go back and forward like that.

Second rule of engagement though – so first rule of engagement, you can only talk in questions. Second rule of engagement is your conversation must make some kind of logical sense.

(Laughter)

You thought there was a get out of jail free card there didn’t you? Yep. So if someone says, ‘How’s the weather outside?’ and then your colleague says, ‘Do you know the value of the Yen at the moment?’ great question but there’s no continuity of dialogue there alright? So it’s got to make sense. So it would kind of be like, start with something easy such as ‘Hey, where do you live?’ and again you could respond to, ‘Why do you want to know?’ That person could go, ‘Did you know I’m an Uber driver?’ and that person could say, ‘Would that save me money?’ So you get the drive right? It’s got to be a conversation. Find a colleague quickly. Go for it. Twenty seconds.

Okay.

Alright folks. If I can have your attention.

And we are coming back to the front of the room.

I don’t want to wolf whistle. Okay. Look at me, look at me, look at me.

Look at me. That sometimes helps. It’s a dangerous activity to do, because it gets out of control doesn’t it? Quick show of hands if you want to be participatory. Who found that difficult? Yeah. And even if you practice that for a year you will still find it relatively difficult. Yes you will get better, because the brain can learn new habits. We can rewire our brain which I’ll talk about briefly. But it’s a difficult task, and I’ll talk about the science behind that in a couple of slides’ time.

But who had a good time doing that? Who chuckled? Who had an acute bout of laughter? Yep. So it’s really important. I’m not going to talk about humour too much throughout this presentation, in fact almost not at all except for right now, but humour and acute bouts of laughter with colleagues does a number of things for our brain. It releases feel good chemicals. Dopamine is probably one you’ve heard of before. It also releases a chemical protein called BDNF, which I’m not going to extend because I can’t pronounce. But it’s a chemical protein that we release in our brain and our bodies when we’re in a feel good state. We often release it when we exercise, when we have a laugh, and when we engage in these feel good initiatives.

And this BDNF protein actually helps strengthen brain connections. It helps strengthen the wiring in our brain. So it helps consolidate new learning into memory. So hopefully if anything that quick little bit of fun activity and laughter has actually increased the likelihood that you might recall something from this presentation later down the track. If not, other parts of the day right. But well-timed humour and respectful humour in the workplace or out and about I think is really critical when it comes to powerful communication, and we can talk a little bit more about that if we get time.

The other good news potentially for today is I’m not going to stand up here and say right, to be a really good communicator or leader, here is what you must be like. So what I mean by that is – again I’m all about participation – quick show of hands, who works for an organisation that has some kind of leadership capability matrix? Or you’ve been to a program that says here’s what a good leader is?

Yep. Me sometimes, I want to rip that thing up and throw it in the bin. Yep. Because it’s eight behaviours but then there’s a subset of 114 behaviours which I’m not going to remember, and I go to a two-day course and then I’m expected to write the gold standard, this is what communication is supposed to be like. Don’t get me wrong, there is some value in those. What I’m going to suggest, it’s the conditions which we create through our communication. So rather than us as leaders in terms of who we are – i.e. the competency matrix says I must be an extrovert, the competency matrix says I must present in this type of way, like I must have emotional intelligence, I must be a good listener, I must be, I must be – almost looking from the flipside point of view, what about the person who’s actually listening to us communicate. What’s their expectations of what good communication is? How is their brain processing the information coming out of us?

I could stand up here right now and say, ‘I’m a great communicator,’ but if there’s someone in the audience who is hearing impaired, I’m not really doing a good job of communicating at the moment. Do people sort of get where I’m coming from? Yep. So I want to present to you I guess some characteristics of communication which can enable better situations for us to connect with our audience or with people one on one. So there’s the good news. The other good news is this is all backed by science, and when I say science I loosely mean evidence-based practice, literature over the last number of decades, suggests that communication is critical with regards to things like return to work, with regards to things like cost reductions in your business.

I’ll just quickly throw those up and you can read them until your heart’s content. I’m not going to read those out. But the evidence suggests to us that interventions or risk management strategies or let’s say preventative cultural type mechanisms, whatever words you want to put to it – communication, consultation around things like roles and responsibilities, how do we engage with a number of stakeholders – is absolutely quintessential for good outcomes for these people, and when I say people I’m referring to potentially people who are experiencing MSD issues or addressing risks in the workplace. You name it, you’ve got it.

So the other thing I want to mention, and I probably should have mentioned this right at the start, is that this is – and again I’m probably projecting here as a psychologist, which I’m okay, because I’m aware of that by the way – is this idea of communication being a soft skill. Who’s ever heard of communication as a nice, soft skill? If those are the return on investments from good communication, that is not a soft skill. Take good communication and consultation and engagement with the workforce out of it, you’ll probably get very, very different and maybe even adverse outcomes. How the hell is it a soft skill? It is a core skill for good either return to work or risk management or whatever it may be. And if that sort of evidence or science doesn’t suggest otherwise, just jump into your WHS Act and have a look at the obligations you have around things like consultation with other duty holders.

So here’s the challenge with communication though. I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I am not sure that you realise that what you heard is not what I meant.

(Laughter)

Probably sums up the challenge of communication doesn’t it? Yep. We think we’re getting our point across. We think we’re engaging. We think that people are digesting our message. But ultimately whether we’re getting through or not is dependent on whether it’s resonating with our listener or with our audience.

So this presentation for the next 20 minutes or so – because I’m mindful of some Q&A as well as I’ve been reminded – is how can we better understand some simple brain mechanisms and tap into those more readily and more frequently through these characteristics, characteristics of good communication. So rather than focus on the leader and the leader attributes which I mentioned before, what are some of the simple things that we can do with the way we communicate to increase the likelihood that we engage the people that we’re talking with.

So, don’t have enough time to go into sort of the neuropsychology 101 type scenario, but who’s heard of the limbic system before? A lot of people have probably heard it, particularly with regards to – so I’m not going to go through all these brain mechanisms by the way – a lot of people have heard of the amygdala. It’s referred to often in the fight or flight response. It gets hijacked when we experience stress or panic or anxiety. We get a bunch of stress and endorphins and these chemicals, cortisol, which put our body into that fight or flight response.

Other parts of the limbic system here. The hippocampus is critical in the formation of memory, so converting information into short- and long-term memory. You’ve got the corpus callosum up there which simply connects the two parts of the brain together, so the two hemispheres, the left and right. The thalamus, very important. It’s like a relay centre of the brain. So it sits just above – this is sort of our brain stem here. This is considered sort of like the mid-brain. So the thalamus is sitting above the brain stem. It takes in along with sub-cortical parts of the thalamus, such as the reticular activating system – you don’t need to remember this by the way. There’s no test afterwards on the phone – but the thalamus acts as this relay centre, so it takes all the sensory input that we’re getting from our vision, hearing, touch, taste, smell, and then it has these abundance of connections or cell-like structures out to the neocortex where we can start to process the information. I know I’m really simplifying this, but simply for the sake of time.

But we can tap into this structure regularly through how we communicate with people, and the first quick thing I want to talk about is questions. So I got you to do the questions activity first and foremost, one to generate a little bit of laughter, because I know the impact that that can have on learning and retention, but questions train our brain on where to focus. So there’s no such thing – Leo Tolstoy once said, the Russian novelist, there’s no such thing as a wrong answer, only good and bad questions.

So through the quality of the questions that we ask ourselves, we can drive or we almost start to take a little bit of control or a large amount of influence over the people that we’re communicating with. So when I ask you a question – who found it difficult in that task to turn that mechanism off when someone asked you a question? You almost found on the tip of your tongue a gut instinct answer, you wanted to respond straight back. Who made the mistake of responding back and went, ‘I stuffed it’? Yep. We naturally do.

Yep. So when someone says, ‘Hey, what’s two plus two?’ regardless of the answer that you get, that brain mechanism fires. It’s like an automatic trigger. Now this also happens – it’s so powerful that it also happens in our sleep. So some parts of the brain we know are quite active when we’re at decreased levels of arousal, so such as being in a state of sleep. But if you’ve been in a situation where let’s say you’re at Coles, you run into someone in aisle seven and you know their face – so brain pattern recognition, you know that face from 20 years ago – but, you can’t remember their what? Their name. You remember everything else about them which is really annoying, in terms of what great footy they played, the art class they attended, their favourite teacher and all this other stuff, who they dated, all the irrelevant information, but you can’t remember their name. So for the purpose of the conversation in Australia, it’s great isn’t it, we can call them mate, champ, buddy, broseph. You name it, you’ve got it.

So you have that conversation. You’re not actually hearing anything they say because you’re standing there nodding and smiling and going, ‘What’s their name? What’s their name? What’s their name? What’s their name?’ Has everyone got that voice inside their head that does that? It’s okay by the way. I’ve got a voice inside my head too. If you’ve got a couple, a different workshop, different conference.

(Laughter)

That went down better than expected. But what happens is you leave aisle seven, you finish your shopping, you go home and 48 hours later you’re making breakfast and what pops into your head? Ah, it was Jim or it was Stacey. This is the thalamus, the reticular activating system, the limbic system switched on 24/7 doing its bloody job. It’s sorting and searching all this information, and it’s got this heightened state of awareness doing its best it can to answer the question that you’ve asked.

Now please don’t get me wrong, there is a disclaimer. You’re not always going to remember that person’s name. Yep. The fact is sometimes memories over time erode away, we lose that neural connection and we just can’t find it anymore. But the brain will do a really good job to find the answer to that question.

So long story short. The types of questions that we ask of individuals or of teams or of our organisations are super, super important, because they guide and train people’s focus. So as soon as I ask someone a question, ‘Hey, help me understand what are the greatest hazards here? Help me understand the implications of that on your work,’ – I was listening to some of the other talks earlier today. There was one, I think it was a gentleman Rob spoke about robotics. Did anyone attend that one? Like an exoskeleton for lifting and things like that. Awesome stuff. Because I’m not from that space, but I look at that and I go okay, if we introduce technology like that, then what are the implications on sort of other psychosocial risks, some of the ones that Kirsten Way spoke about in terms of decision making latitude or job autonomy or these other psychological considerations which we might not look at because we’re so focused on the physical considerations of the task.

So how can I use my questions to broaden the mind of the audience to think about maybe some of these other hazards which aren’t necessarily physically present to me? I can’t necessarily see something like job autonomy, or I can’t necessarily see decision making latitude for example. So questions tap into the limbic system.

The next thing we can do from a limbic system point of view is we can talk about goal attainment and goal directed behaviour with regards to this type of statement here. It’s called the if-then statements, or if X happens then do Y. And the brain and the limbic system loves this type of language because it works in contingencies. Again, our brain loves patterns, and so it’s kind of like an attribution or a contingency or a pattern which we can encode into our brain which then saves us energy later on funnily enough. What I mean by that is rather than setting ourselves – and I know you’ve all probably heard of – who’s heard of smart goals before? That’s fine. Keep setting them. But as you set smart goals have a look at these if-then type statements. So if situation X occurs, then here is how I will respond. Here is my desired behaviour. So smart goals would say right, if I want to lose weight, be specific, go to the gym three times a day, etcetera, etcetera. I want to lose exactly four kilos. Break it down. That’s fine.

But then what about the other unknown situations or some of these other contingencies which I’m not going to plan for, i.e. I’m out at dinner on a Friday night and the dessert menu comes out and I go – yep. Can anyone relate to that? Yep. I’m currently going through it in dry July. I’m not doing too well. But the if-then statement becomes – it’s less now about losing weight and eating healthy. The if-then statement for this person becomes something along the lines of if the dessert menu comes out then I will choose to order coffee. And they’ve pre-planned that well in advance of this potential event happening. So it involves some kind of planning, and we code it into our brain. So there’s a fair bit of work upfront from a conscientious point of view, to say right, if this is going to occur then here’s how I’m going to act. But the more and more we do that, when that situation arises we save ourselves a hell of a lot of brain energy and things like self-control and willpower, because what happens – and the idea is if the situation occurs in reality, i.e. if the dessert menu comes out, which my brain is now starting to scan for because I’ve primed it, my natural tendency, my subconscious behaviour, starts to become, ‘Okay, I’m just going to order coffee instead’.

The research around if-then statements suggests that people who use them when they’re setting goals are roughly about two to three times more likely to achieve their desired outcome. So this is after meta-analysis of hundreds of studies looking at people using if-then statements versus people that didn’t, and almost for any type of behaviour – so diet and exercise, increasing use of public transportation, reducing prejudicial type thoughts against other races. It’s absolutely amazing. I’m happy to share some of the papers which confirm this at a later date.

But it uses the natural language of our brain. If this happens, then I will choose to do this. Now whether you’re aware of it or not, you’re getting encoded with this type of information all the time. If you think about a workplace context from an emergency response, they talk about there’s going to be a couple of beeps. If you hear this beep then here’s how you should act. If you hear this first tone then don’t move, just wait for the next. If you then hear this type of sound, then I want you to do this. So I can guarantee it, now that I’ve mentioned this to you, you’ll naturally go back into the workplace and you’ll start to find these if-then statements across the board. What I’m suggesting is if you’re working either with an individual colleague or patient or whatever word you’d like to use, if you’re working with a team, you can use it for team base goal setting. ‘Hey, if this happens for us as a team then we will respond like this’. You can use it at a change management organisational campaign type level if you want to change mass behaviour let’s say.

I tried to think about powerful examples. If you think about – and I’m not necessarily calling her a great leader – but Anna Bligh a few years ago when the Queensland floods happened, some of her speeches, even though she didn’t specifically use, ‘Hey, if this occurs then here’s what we’ll do,’ naturally started to resonate using this type of language. What I mean by that is she’d say, ‘We are Queenslanders’. Who can remember these types of statements? ‘We are Queenslanders. We are born tough north of the border,’ and it was kind of like, ‘If you know someone in need then go and help them. Go pick up a shovel’. She was giving these contingencies, these if-then type statements to say, ‘Here’s the type of behaviour I want you to engage in’. She wasn’t enforcing it through legislation or policy. It was quite an emotive speech, which was really good, but she used a lot of these attributions and contingencies to get people to buy in.

Now I’m mindful of time so I do have to move. In terms of engaging communication and powerful presentations, this is an overlay of Dr Martin Luther King’s 16-minute I have a dream speech. It doesn’t look like much does it when you draw it according to a line. Now this is from a lady called Nancy Duarte. I highly recommend if you’re interested in powerful presentations, engaging speeches, all that type of stuff, Nancy is a great place to start. And this is all of her work which hopefully I’ve referenced okay, but happy to again pass it on.

She talks about how all presentations, speeches have three distinct parts. This is current state, and this is why the world is the way it currently is, resonating with the audience, understanding the audience’s current position. This middle part here oscillates between what? Past and future state. What is versus what could be. Not necessarily solving that gap, but creating an imbalance. It creates cognitive dissonance in the listener’s mind, and what it naturally starts to do the more this starts to happen, is people get that emotive response when we experience that dissonance, i.e. current state’s not okay. We’ve got to resolve this and do something about it to get over this imbalance.

So it identifies what I call the problem solving rush, and we get that rush at the end. The end should solve this imbalance. Here’s how we move forward. So if we achieve this, then what will that mean for us as a community or for your workplace or for your team or even for an individual?

Duarte breaks his talk down in terms of she starts to – I know some people might struggle to see that, but it’s the best image I could get – she breaks this image down in terms of some of the key things that he does from a powerful presentation point of view, and a lot of these colours. So he uses a lot of metaphors, a lot of short stories, metaphors, similes, visual words to describe current and future state with his audience. ‘America has given the negro people a bad cheque, a cheque which has come back marked insufficient funds.’ Not only a powerful metaphor, but a metaphor that probably a lot of the audience could resonate with at the time during his speech.

He even counter-balances that with the metaphors up here. He actually uses language such as, ‘Well we have come back to cash in this cheque, a cheque that will demand of us the riches of freedom and the security of justice’. So he actually uses visual words and metaphors to counteract one another in terms of painting his story.

In terms of moving forward, anywhere in this – I’ll go back and forward just so you can see – anywhere in this speech here, here, lots here and right here is where he starts to get into repetition. ‘I have a dream that one day…,’ ‘I have a dream that one day…’, ‘I have a dream that one day…’ – which has ultimately become probably one of the most memorable parts of his speech, not only for its simplicity and the sort of eloquent language that he uses – ‘I have a dream that one day my four children will grow up in a nation where they’re judged not by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character’. Again very powerful, visual type words that resonated with the audience, emotive type language.

Green. This is what I start to love. Green actually refers to popular scripture, hymns and songs and pop culture at the time. So here towards the end he uses a lot of it to actually talk about this future state. This bunch of green here refers to the book of Isaiah – or Isaiah, depending on how you pronounce it – in terms of again something that the American negro people – their scripture. So if we do this we are fulfilling scripture.

Here he talks about the song, My Country ‘Tis of Thee, Sweet land of liberty, which he kind of used almost strategically. Nancy talks about the fact that this song was used during the anti-slavery movement and they actually changed the words because they felt like promises had been broken to them. So he puts that towards the end of the speech to again engage the audience, something that they would be well familiar with. And then right at the end, Free at last, Free at last, God Almighty, Free at last.

So these cultural references that people can relate to and engage with. Again this all taps into the limbic system. It taps into the amygdala. This would trigger a whole bunch of emotions for people, a whole bunch of neurochemicals for people to say that ‘I feel like that. That’s my experience. Tell me more. How do we resolve this imbalance?’

Now I can’t really show too much, but here is orange. There’s a couple here, here – I’ve counted about seven or eight all up, and if you look at how much speech that is in a 16-minute speech, it’s all of about 30 seconds. This is the only time he talks about political references. In a political speech about civil rights and injustices, 30 seconds of a 16-minute speech he actually talks about things like the Declaration of Independence. Everything else is stories and metaphors and repetition of key points, painting a picture for the audience of this imbalance between current and future state. What is now versus what could be. And he ends with the new bliss. So it’s all ending, these last number of minutes, all ending with what do we need to do to solve this problem. It needs to end like that, otherwise people would walk away feeling disempowered. ‘Well, we can’t do anything’.

So, I need to start to wrap up. There’s been a number of talks today that I’ve gotten to see which is regard the future of work. What is the future of MSD treatment going to look like or risk prevention or management in the workplace? Are we going to use robotics or exoskeletons? Do we need to look at work design? The demographic of the workplace is changing. All this kind of interesting stuff which is providing obviously uncertainty, and we’re talking about change is the new normal, all those clichĂ© sayings that you would have heard at previous conferences.

So in some regard it’s a bit of a crystal ball in terms of what does this future of work look like? Yes, we can make some predictions around there’s going to be a generational change, there’s going to be these shifts in terms of diversity of teams. But ultimately what is not a crystal ball from my perspective is how imperative good communication, engaging consultation, consulting with stakeholders, and not just because the Act says it, but because we morally and ethically want to do it and we want to do it well, because we know that the evidence says that if we do it well it has a profound positive impact on the people that we’re working with.

So for me it’s not a soft skill. It is an absolute foundation that we communicate well and we understand how does the brain work at a very basic level and how can we tailor our communication so that we’re tapping into the brain, particularly this limbic system which you can probably read more about at a later date.

So the key takeaways are up there. So use repetition time and time again. Tell me, show me, make me feel it, use a number of different channels and mediums. Target the limbic system. Storytelling – we can all learn to be better communicators. Some people obviously have it naturally, but we can learn it as a skill. We can learn to do these things better. Create this cognitive dissonance. Create this if-then, what if, what could be, and help people resolve it. Appreciative enquiry. Use questions. Use broad questions, use narrow questions, use questions that focus on the past, use questions that focus on the future. Create a window of enquiry to people’s minds. And finally, these if-then statements. Whether it’s for personal goal attainment or you want to influence goal-directed behaviour in other people, practicing these if-then statements has a fantastic impact from a brain neurochemistry point of view.

And folks that’s about it from me. Thank you.

Madonna King:

That’s the list of prizes which I’ll come to in just a moment. Remember you do need to be in the room to actually win that prize.

Thank you Peter. We’ve got about seven minutes for questions, and I’d love you to ask a question if it’s on top of mind. You can also just pop it into the speech bubble, the activity section of Zeetings as well. Who’d like to raise their hand and ask one?

Just while that’s happening, can I ask you this? You talked a lot about if X happens then you do Y. Is that a matter of actually planning? I’m going to this meeting, these are the possible things that will happen, therefore I need to think of the Ys?

Peter Kennedy:

Yeah. So I think it’s a case of we don’t want to do our heads in trying to think about the thousands of what if scenarios that could happen, because otherwise we’d sit there forever. But I think it’s about realistic and saying, ‘Okay. If my goal is…’ – and I’ll come back to a simple one around losing weight or being on a diet – ‘…what are the potential scenarios I’m going to find myself in on a daily basis?’ So if I’m going to work five days a week Monday to Friday, I’m likely to know the people I’m engaging with, the meetings I’ve got coming up. So I think some preparation and planning from a cognitive point of view and sitting down and, ‘Okay. If this scenario happens, how am I going to choose to respond?’ then saves us as I said a lot of cognitive self-control and willpower in that moment, because we’ve already sort of predetermined this is what we’re going to do. So we’ve sort of trained the brain in that regard I guess is where I’m coming from.

Madonna King:

I suspect that will work in our parenting as much as our jobs.

Peter Kennedy:

Yeah. And as I said the literature shows over the last number of decades – the gentleman who probably is sort of the guru of if-then statements is a gentleman called Peter Gollwitzer I think his last name is. He’s a New York psychologist who sort of came up with this term and has done a lot of the seminal research in that space. But the literature says, as I said, broadly two to three times more likely than just doing simple smart goals and things like that.

Madonna King:

Alright. Our first question on Zeetings by Patrick. Thanks Patrick. ‘How can we prevent unconscious bias from affecting our decision making and impacting assessment and treatment of MSDs?’

Peter Kennedy:

Well that’s it from me. Thanks folks.

(Laughter)

I’ll probably need to put a disclaimer in terms of I’m definitely not an unconscious bias expert. Some of the evidence, and someone even mentioned this today – I can’t remember who the presenter speaking about unconscious bias is – through HBR and through other sources of research there’s been some evidence to suggest that simply training people in this idea of hey, let’s be more aware of your unconscious bias and here are what – who’s been to some of these trainings? This is what unconscious biases are. Here’s some of the top five ones you might experience in the workplace. Not much of that has done anything to actually curb unconscious bias in the workplace, because what it actually does is it makes it more salient for us in the brain and we’re actually probably more likely to – it kind of brings our subconscious biases out.

So there’s a lot of research saying that if you’re going to introduce an unconscious bias program in the workplace – and if you look at some of the work that David Rock from the Neuro Leadership Institute, he talks about actually make the program participatory. So don’t force people to go into it, actually basically say ‘Hey, here’s what it is. Here’s the benefits you might get from it. If you want to understand more about yourself and about others, go along’. And so again you’re giving people autonomy and control around that decision to attend rather than forcing an imposed strategy or intervention on to them.

But the evidence around unconscious bias in terms of let’s train people in what it is and then the ROI on it for me anyway is still a little bit unknown.

Madonna King:

Okay. ‘What about what questions lead to behavioural change? Are there specific ones that you could just give us as a starting?’

Peter Kennedy:

By anonymous. Thanks anonymous. Yeah. So if we go back to sort of the Martin Luther King speech but in the form of questions, so understanding what is not okay with the current state. So understanding what the actual problem is from the person’s perspective, then getting them to obviously articulate well what does future state look like for you? What is success? So get them to define success. Rather than you maybe as the leader or whoever it may be put metrics or measures around it, what is success going to look like for them and get them to articulate that. So get them almost to self-drive their own expectations around what good performance looks like.

I think others is then around – if you look at things in the psychosocial risk, if I can use that term, around what’s the peer support you have in place, do you have enough leadership support to guide you on this, is your current design of work conducive to enabling this change for you, etcetera, etcetera. So for me there’s probably tens of hundreds of questions you could ask, but definitely understanding current state, future state and then the support mechanisms that person needs.

Madonna King:

This is a genuine question. Given your experience in this area, is there a way you can train your brain to actually remember someone’s name when you’re introduced?

Peter Kennedy:

Is that a question?

Madonna King:

Yeah.

Peter Kennedy:

From yourself or from…

Madonna King:

Yeah. I mean does it matter? What’s your name?

Peter Kennedy:

What’s my name? Why do you ask? That’s a great question Madonna. Listen, I think – and I’ll move away from sort of the empirical evidence just for me personally – if something is important enough to you, you will put cognitive effort into remembering it, and use repetition as well. So we know the more we repeat something through multiple mediums, we reinforce the connections that the brain is trying to make.

So let’s use the name example. So what often happens – let’s just go off a social gathering barbecue on a Saturday afternoon – you walk up to someone, you say, ‘Hi. I’m Pete, and you are?’ and they say, ‘I’m Lisa,’ and you go, ‘Great to meet you. So what do you do?’ And you don’t use their name. And then when you see them later on and you need to recall it, you’ve got no other sort of neural connections there to back you up. So if it’s important for me to remember this person’s name, I would do this. I would go, ‘My name’s Peter and you are?’ ‘Lisa?’ So my first one is almost a question back to them. ‘Did I hear you correctly?’ Because they might have a tricky name that I’ve never heard of before, but I’ll do it anyway. So, ‘Was it David?’ ‘Yep. David.’ ‘David, pleased to meet you. So David what do you do for a job?’ Within the space of 10 seconds I’ve used that person’s name about three or four times.

Madonna King:

So is it a matter of using their name? Some expert once said to me if you say, ‘Hi,’ and I say, ‘Hi. I’m Lisa. I’m a nurse,’ you immediately think of me with a patient, a snapshot like it was a picture from a camera.

Peter Kennedy:

Yeah. And this is what I said I was moving away from literature. There’s a multitude of techniques I think that individuals can choose to use. Not every memory technique or learning technique is going to work for every individual. For me it’s a repetition thing. If I repeat something, I’m more than likely going to remember it. And I’m adding another sense to it. Not only have I heard it, I’m now saying it.

Madonna King:

Alright. And can I ask one last question from Will? Thank you Will. ‘Do competing demands for managers get in the way of good leadership using your techniques? Do you need top down support for the MSD approach you suggest, cascading performance optimisation?’

Peter Kennedy:

Yeah. I think leadership – I’m just trying to read the question. I think in terms of – it’s always good to have leadership support and to have that top leadership support. With regards to the techniques I’m suggesting, I mean I don’t see them as interventions or things that necessarily need more time or money or human resources to engage in. I mean simply mastering skills of asking better questions to get better answers or using the if-then type technique on a regular basis, the more we do it the more natural and habitual it’s going to become. So for me it’s a no brainer. We’re not asking too much more from the organisation itself. Of course it’s always good for top managers or senior leaders to practice that technique. So it’s that old saying, what fascinates my boss interests me, or the other way round. So I think, yeah.

Madonna King:

Okay. Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, a big round of applause for Peter Kennedy.

(Applause)

You know what’s next don’t you before the announcement of prizes? If you just open Zeetings for the last time, and I’d love you to rate Peter Kennedy’s presentation as you have the previous presenters. Thank you. I’ll give you 20 seconds before the next one.

If you can just rate how you saw it.

Our next question is will you change your current approach in the workplace based on what you have learned?

Will you change what you do?

And your takeaway message, a word, a phrase, a sentence. What’s your takeaway message from this final keynote presentation?

Keep it open. Thank you. And thank you for being involved in such an interactive way throughout the day. The feedback obviously helps organisers make this, tailor this to be as relevant as is possible. And I’m sure the day has prompted all sorts of thought-provoking discussions and new ideas, so while you have Zeetings open I have a final two questions.

What is one key thing that you will take away from today? What’s one key thing? Is it preparation? Is it something out of someone’s presentation today? The future is here with us. Is it a change to something you will do at work?

And these are private. This just helps us tailor things to you into the future.

And our final question, would you attend a similar event or attend the MSD Symposium again? You spell yes Y-E-S.

Thank you so much for participating in our Zeetings questions today, and if you do have more feedback feel free to send them through for the remainder of today, remembering you can keep it anonymous as well.

Prizes to be announced in just one moment, but in summary I think you’d agree that it’s been a great day with lots of thought-provoking discussion. And I’m sure that it’s prompted all of us in the room to review what we might be doing in this important area, and has provided some ideas on things that we can all take back to our own workplace. Some of the key messages that have come out for me is around what Casey Chosewood said this morning. Change is happening at a pace we’ve never seen before and it will never be this slow again. And we’ve heard from other speakers throughout the day the evidence of what needs to be done, how we might do that, and this afternoon with Peter Kennedy how we are best to communicate that.

I’d like to thank and acknowledge all of the presenters and the effort they’ve put in to share their knowledge with us. We also value your feedback in order to improve our events, so please take some time to complete the survey that will be sent to you in the next few days about your experience today, what you liked, what you didn’t like so much. In addition to all the organisations who exhibited today, a huge thanks to our major sponsors Safe Work Australia, Connect and Axis. It is a relationship that we value, a partnership that we value.

We’d also like to thank everyone who exhibited today. There were lots of great organisations here, and we hope you were able to make some great industry contacts.

And they have forwarded us a list of prize winners. Our first prize today comes from our silver sponsors Axis, and it’s a beautiful bunch of flowers. You can collect your prize at the registration desk, but I need you to stand to know that you are here. And the winner is Kim Sampson of that prize. Kim, are you here?

Can you just stand up? Fantastic.

(Applause)

Thank you. Our second prize is from Resile, and it’s a gift basket. The winner is Sue Curnow. Sue, can you – thank you Sue.

(Applause)

Congratulations. Our next prize is from the Work Injury Management, and it’s a gift pack. The winner this time is Lina Bell. Lina.

(Applause)

I need to see Lina here. Would Lina raise her hand? Yep. Sorry?

Oh, I think they might have just forgotten the d. Linda it’s yours.

(Applause)

All those prizes can be collected at the registration desk. And of course the Injury Prevention and Return to Work Conference tickets, Tammy Beltz is winner one. Congratulations Tammy.

(Applause)

And Chris Stark is winner two. Thank you.

(Applause)

We will send you an email with information on how to claim those tickets.

Again on behalf of Workplace Health and Safety Queensland, I’d like to once again a big thanks to everyone for coming today and making the symposium a swimming success.

Please hold on to your name tags for tomorrow, and remember you need to be here at 8:30 for a 9:00am start. A safe trip home. Thank you.

[End of transcript]

Last updated
10 December 2019