Book Review: Fierce Conversations

Have you ever asked yourself the really tough questions? Have you ever really had meaningful conversations with others? Author, Susan Scott, in her book, Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work & in Life, One Conversation at Time, helps you gain the insight and skills to make every conversation count. From the title of the book "Fierce Conversations”, you may mistakenly assume this is a book about confrontation. It is really an invitation to interrogate reality. The author contends that the most valuable thing any of us can do is to find a way to say the things that can’t be said.

Scott, a communication consultant, trains her clients in the art of fierce conversations. She says, "Our work, our relationships, and our lives succeed or fail gradually, then suddenly, one conversation at a time. While no conversation is guaranteed to change everything, any single conversation can.” She contends that the conversation is the relationship and each conversation is important in the success or the failure of those relationships. She argues that most of us are engaged in "unreal" conversations, for fear of truth and hard realities, yet our avoidance of these is expensive on a personal and public level. If you think about it, most breakdowns in life have some connection to conversations – conversations not had, conversations that go poorly, or conversations not yet even imagined. The temporary or permanent failure of companies and marriages are because people don’t say what they are really thinking – no one really asks and no one really answers.

The chapters in this book are organized around Scott’s Seven Principles of Fierce Conversations:

1.Master the courage to interrogate reality.

2.Come out from behind yourself into the conversation and make it real.

3.Be here, prepared to be nowhere else.

4.Tackle your toughest challenge today.

5.Obey your instincts.

6.Take responsibility for your emotional wake.

7.Let silence do the heavy lifting.

The author explores each principle by sharing stories from her personal experiences, using examples from various companies and referencing other people’s work on the subject. Scott’s writing style itself is conversational and inviting and her ideas are laid out in a logical progression, ending with pointed questions and unique suggestions. She introduces various processes, exercises and assignments, including a process for facilitating a team issue discussion complete with facilitator guidelines, a list of common mistakes made during one-to-ones, and tips for preparing for fierce conversations.

Scott explains, in its simplest form, "a fierce conversation is one in which we come out from behind ourselves into the conversation and make it real.” Authenticity is not something you have; it is something you choose. She tells us to tackle our toughest challenges today because burnout doesn’t happen when we are solving problems, but when we are solving the same problems over and over again. It takes a lot of energy to hold back and remain concerned about the same issues that aren’t being resolved. She tells us not to just trust our intuition; but to obey it, listening not only for content, but intent and emotion as well. Share your instincts with others. She also talks about taking responsibility for your "emotional wake”. An emotional wake is "what you remember after I’m gone”. Everything we say leaves an emotional wake – positive or negative. The question then is, "What kind of wake do you want to leave?” When Scott refers to the principle, "Let Silence do the Heavy Lifting”, she reminds us to slow down the conversation by introducing some breathing room for insight to occur. Too often, silence makes us nervous and we tend to jump in and fill any awkward pauses.

The author gives us a tip to encourage people to share their opinions. Too often, people who are just tired, or who don’t want to rock the boat, respond to the "What do you think?" question with "I don’t know." Susan advises us to follow up with "If you did know, what would you think?” Another tip to help improve communication is to remove the word but from our vocabulary and replace it with and. She also suggests instead of asking, "How are you?” you may need to ask, "How aren’t you?” One of models of communication she outlines is called "Mineral Rights". It is a type of conversation designed to get deep, past the surface and into the truth of what is going on. The questions asked during a Mineral Rights conversation help teams and individuals interrogate reality in such a way that they are mobilized to take potent action on tough challenges.

Fierce Conversations is a guide to tackling your toughest challenges and enriching relationships with everyone important to your success and happiness, directing you through your first fierce conversation with yourself and onto the most challenging and important conversations facing you. It is about interrogating reality by encouraging (and accepting) honesty and constructive feedback in all your human contact. Ask yourself this: What are the conversations you’ve been unable or unwilling to have that, if you were able to have, might change everything? What are you waiting for? Turn difficult conversations into courageous and "fierce” conversations and lay the groundwork for positive change by living honestly and authentically.

Karen Knorr is a True Colours Facilitator and resides in Errington with her husband and two boys. She can be reached via email: