Communication and mastering conversation

Tim Harkness

Tim has over 22 years of experience as a Psychologist and Sports Scientist and currently holds the position of Head of Sports Science and Psychology at Chelsea Football Club. In addition, Tim has worked closely with a diverse group of elite athletes from Abhinav Bindra the only Indian Olympian Gold Medallist since 1980,  to the Delhi Capitals IPL team. In 2018 Tim was the Team Psychologist to the Saudi Arabia National Football team at the 2018 FIFA world cup.

Tim grew up in South Africa during the 1970s and 80s and observed the successful political change from the apartheid regime to democracy Throughout his career, he’s learnt how powerful effective communication really is. When we disagree, it is often more productive to stop talking about the topic and start talking about the rules of engagement.

He recently published his first book, ‘10 Rules for Talking: An Expert’s Guide to Mastering Difficult Conversations’.  It is packed with great advice from someone who has communicated and coached in high-performance cultures across the globe. The book is about so much more than communication and conversations. It addresses some of the essential themes around personal interaction, how we think, how we express ourselves and create meaning from these interactions. It’s really about how we live our lives and how we can live them better by improving our communication.

In this episode we talk through his life, the lessons from the book and from working with high performing teams.


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3:18 How growing up in during the apartheid influenced Tim’s outlook on life?

7:51 The indirect influences from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission about how to have difficult conversations

9:58 Getting into psychology and specialising in sports psychology

11:20  Has sports psychology achieved what it has set out to do?

14:32 Finding the right balance with focus

18:34 When to follow our instinctive decisions, outside of the sports realm

21:15 How to increase our focus in day to day life

26:18 Flow vs effort with focus

28:32 Working with goalkeepers to boost their performance

31:48 Does the mind give up before our bodies? Looking at older cyclists

35:53 Communication across different cultures

40:59 Techniques and approaches when coaching people for the first time

43:14 Taking on new ideas and skills in the run-up to a major event

44:52 Heart Rate Variability and breathing techniques

49:26 Athletes communicating with each other

51:56 The purpose of communication 

56:20 Verbal and non-verbal cues

1:00:53 What’s the best way for white people to talk about diversity and inclusion?

1:04:56 The inspiration behind writing the book and writing process

1:08:29 Why do we need rules in conversations?

1:10:09 The motivation formula

1:13:18 Ways to improve confidence

1:15:11 Dealing with disputes

1:18:50 Using communication effectively for bad reasons

1:22:18 How do we agree on truth? 

1:26:36 The skill of stress-testing truth from conversations

1:128:14 The role of resilience in conversation

1:32:22 Enhancing personal relationships through better communication

1:35:59 Understanding the PERMA acronym 

1:39:50 Working in a remote world: how can we avoid our written word from being misconstrued?

1:41:46 The four types of conversationalists

1:45:55 Some of the best communicators in the public realm

1:47:30 What are the effects of good listening?

1:50:17 How to have difficult conversations