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Master the Courage to Interrogate Reality
Life is curly. Don't try to straighten it out.
No plan survives its collision with reality. The problem is, reality has an irritating habit of shifting at work and at home, seriously complicating our favorite fantasies. And reality generally wins, whether it's the reality of the marketplace, the reality of a spouse's changing needs, or the reality of our own physical or emotional well-being.
Things change. The world changes. You and I change. Business colleagues, life partners, friends, customers. We are all changing all the time. As Lillian Hellman wrote, "People change and forget to tell one another." Not only do we neglect to share this with others, we are skilled at masking it to ourselves. It's no wonder relationships disintegrate.
The traditional practice of annual strategic planning sessions is a thing of the past. It no longer works for a company's executive team to spend two days on retreat, determine their goals, roll out an action plan, and call it a year. The team members must reconvene quarterly to address the question "What has changed since last we met?" As a company president recently admitted, "I'd like to get a firm grasp on reality, but somebody keeps moving it."
The best we can hope for, to quote business consultant Robert Bridges, is "the masterful administration of the unforeseen." Stuff happens. Internally. Externally. Some you can affect. Some you can't.
Life Is Curly
From working closely with corporate leaders, I know very well how quickly reality can change. The customer responsible for 50 percent of your business files for bankruptcy. Your most valuable employee is recruited away from you. Your competition comes out with a great, new whiz-bang product that you are not prepared to match or beat. New technology renders your product or service obsolete. The economy goes upside down. You go upside down, lost in the complexity of your organization's goals and challenges.
Perhaps you suddenly landed that huge customer you've been pursuing but never believed you'd get, whose expectations you are unequipped to meet. In the last quarter of 2001, the owner of a crab fishery in the Bering Sea scrambled to fulfill twice the normal orders for crabmeat from his customers in Japan. Why the demand? Following the September 11 terrorist attack, many Japanese canceled their travel plans and stayed home. And while they were home, they ate a lot of crab! Few of us would have foreseen a link between terrorism and the consumption of crab.
It would seem companies are stressed either because their sales are too low or because their sales are too high. As individuals, we are stressed either because we don't have enough of the things we want or because we have all of the things we want. We are either shedding or acquiring; either way, happiness eludes us.
Or perhaps you realize that you're operating at a new level of effectiveness in a particular area of your life. Life feels like your favorite class at school, with a rush of learning every day. You've received a promotion or you've fallen in love with a wonderful person. Whatever it is, something spectacular has happened and you don't want to blow it. It feels like acing a final exam and winning the lottery on the same day-exhilarating and a touch frightening. You've been given a valuable gift-a thrilling new reality-and you know it! And in some corner of your heart, a loving voice suggests, "Listen up, bucko. You'd better make some serious changes or you're gonna blow this deal!"
Let's face it. The world will not be managed. Life is curly. Don't try to straighten it out.
Whether you are running an organization or participating in a committed relationship, you will find yourself continually thwarted in your best efforts to accomplish the goals of the "team" unless reality is regularly and thoroughly examined. You know this. Describing reality, however, can get complicated. Let me show you what I mean.
Think of your company as a beach ball. Picture the beach ball as having a red stripe, a green stripe, a yellow stripe, and a blue stripe. Let's imagine that you are the president of the company. That's you standing on the blue stripe. The blue stripe is where you live, every day, day after day. If someone asks you what color your company is, you look down around your feet and say, "My company is blue."
How do you know? You're surrounded by blue. You open a drawer and it's full of blue. You pick up the phone and listen to blue. You walk down the hall and smell blue. Every day you eat, drink, and breathe blue. From where you stand, the company is as blue as it gets. Cobalt blue, to be precise.
So here you are in a meeting, laying out your strategy to launch an exciting new project. And, of course, you're explaining that this strategy is brilliant because it takes into consideration the blueness of the company.
Your CFO listens intently. Her brow is furrowed. She lives on the red stripe. All day she's up to her armpits in red. Cash flow is tight. She takes a deep breath and ventures, "I'm excited about this project, but when I hear you describe our company as blue, I wonder if you've studied the latest cash flow projection. I'm dealing with a lot of red these days. Can we talk about this?"
While many leaders do not welcome opposing views, you are highly evolved, so you respond, "Okay, put that red on the table and let's take a look at it." And the debate is on. Blue, red, blue, red, blue, red.
Meanwhile, your director of manufacturing is starting to squirm. He lives on the green stripe. He is thinking, "Man, oh man. The timing on this project couldn't be worse, but every time I share concerns I am viewed as a naysayer. Besides, it's nearly lunchtime and no one will thank me for complicating this conversation even further."
Your VP of engineering, who lives on the yellow stripe, has a strongly held, differing opinion, but his experience has taught him that differences of opinion lead to raised voices and strong emotions, after which someone dies. In his experience, for some people win/win translates to I win. I win again. And the last time he stuck his toe over the line with a controversial idea, the most vocal member of the team shot it off. So this key executive, who is privy to useful information, pulls off an amazing feat. He shrinks his subatomic particles and disappears.
This is possible, you know. Think about all the times a meeting has ended and you found yourself trying to remember if your VP of engineering was present. He was; he just made himself invisible. Some people are extraordinarily talented at this. They may be brilliant, but disappointingly (and irritatingly), they neither fish nor cut bait, they are neither hot nor cold. They appear to be, at best, politely indifferent.
The Corporate Nod
The ability to hide out at meetings was so prevalent at one company that the behavior eventually got a name. Picture a leader holding forth from one end of the boardroom table. She is espousing the cleverness of the current strategy. Like all good leaders, at some point she offers an opportunity for others to respond. Something like, "So what do you think?"
It gets quiet around the table. Unnaturally quiet. Like the quiet before a tornado, when birds fall silent and not a leaf stirs and a bilious sky warns of an approaching storm. Around the table, eyes fall. Each individual practices the art of personal stealth technology, attempting to drop beneath the leader's radar screen. At one point the leader calls on some poor bloke who is less skilled at vanishing than his team members.
"Jim, what do you think of the plan?"
Jim gets that look on his face like a cat occupied in the litter box-sort of far away as if to indicate that he is not really here and neither are you. The leader waits Jim out. Jim has to do something.
Jim nods. His head moves up and down as he gazes fixedly at a spot on the boardroom table.
The leader smiles.
"And what about you, Elaine?" the leader persists.
Elaine steps into the litter box. Head down. Eyes averted. She nods.
And so forth around the table, as the leader scans the room.
The Corporate Nod.
Satisfied, the leader concludes, "Good. We launch on Monday."
In the funnies, characters' thought-bubbles float overhead, capturing the unfiltered notions bobbing about in their heads. We love the Dilbert comic strip because the characters actually say what they're thinking and it's often what we have thought ourselves. If we could read the thought-bubbles floating over the heads of people sitting around the boardroom table, the very people charged with implementing the strategy, we might see: "There's no way we can do that! This is crazy!" Or "This sucker is going down. Time to dust off my résumé." Or "Wonder if my family would notice if I bought a ticket to Barbados and disappeared."
We don't know what people are thinking unless they tell us. And even then, there's no guarantee they're telling us what they really think. Yet, if asked, most people avow that they want to hear the truth, even if it is unpalatable.
A friend who is a high-level executive, intimidating to many, recently promoted a courageous employee who walked into his office with a large bucket of sand and poured it on the rug. "What the hell are you doing?" demanded my friend.
The employee replied, "I just figured I'd make it easier for you to bury your head in the sand on the topic I keep bringing up and you keep avoiding."
You can be assured this employee would not have taken such a bold and risky step if he were not convinced that the company was about to embark on a road to ruin. After a sleepless night, he had determined that he owed it to himself, his colleagues, his customers, and his leader to either make himself heard or leave the organization. He told his boss, "Everyone's in-basket and out-basket are full, but I'm concerned we're avoiding the too hard basket."
The conversation following this outrageous act interrogated reality, provoked learning, tackled a tough challenge, and enriched the relationship. It is no small thing that, as a result, the company made the changes necessary to avoid a potential disaster.
If you're in a similar situation, I don't advise you to buy a bucket of sand. However, do recognize that there is something within us that responds deeply to people who level with us, who do not pamper us or offer compromises but, instead, describe reality so simply and compellingly that the truth seems inevitable, and we cannot help but recognize it.
And if you are the boss who deserves a bucket of sand, you may have been defending yourself with the complaint: "I pump out energy and it's unilateral. Nothing comes back." Perhaps you are not allowing it to come back.
The Corporate Nod shows up in living rooms as well as boardrooms. Companies and marriages derail temporarily or permanently because people don't say what they are really thinking. No one really asks. No one really answers.
Ask yourself ...
* What are my goals when I converse with people? What kinds
of things do I usually discuss? Are there other topics that
would be more interesting?
* How often do I find myself-just to be
polite-saying things I don't mean?
* How many meetings have I sat in where
I knew the real issues were not being discussed?
And what about the conversations
in my marriage? What issues are
* If I were guaranteed honest responses to any three questions,
whom would I question and what would I ask?
* What has been the economical, emotional, and intellectual
cost to the company of not identifying and tackling the real issues?
What has been the cost to my marriage? What has been
the cost to me?
* How often do I recall members of my team or staff putting
their real concerns on the table in an attempt to make the conversation
genuine? What about my conversations at home?
How honest are my partner and I being with each other?
* When was the last time I said what I really thought and felt?
* How would I describe the level of collaboration, alignment, and
accountability of my executive team? of my family members?
* What are the leaders in my organization pretending not to
know? What are members of my family pretending not to
know? What am I pretending not to know?
* How certain am I that my team members are deeply committed
to the same vision? How certain am I that my life partner
is deeply committed to the vision I hold for our future?
* When was the last time I confronted someone at work or at
home about his or her behavior and ended the conversation
having enriched the relationship?
* If nothing changes regarding the outcomes of the conversations
within my organization, what are the implications for
my own success and career? for my department? for key customers?
for the organization's future? What about my marriage?
If nothing changes, what are the implications for us as a
couple? for me?
* What is the conversation I've been unable to have with senior
executives, with my colleagues, with my direct reports, with my
customers, with my life partner, and most important, with
myself, with my own aspirations, that if I were able to have,
might make the difference, might change everything?
* If all of my conversations with the most important people in
my life, including my spouse and family members, successfully
interrogated reality, provoked learning, tackled the tough
challenges, and enriched relationships, what difference could
that make to the quality of my life?
Are My Truths in the Way?
It would be a gross oversimplification to suggest that each of us simply needs to tell the truth. Will Schutz, who has taught seminars on honesty for decades, suggests that truth is the grand simplifier, that relationships and organizations are simplified, energized, and clarified when they exist in an atmosphere of truth. Yet Schutz acknowledges that truth, itself, is far from simple.
Pause for a moment and think about the truth. After all, what is the truth, and does anybody own it?
What each of us believes to be true simply reflects our views about reality. When reality changes (and when doesn't it?) and when we ignore competing realities (remember the beach ball?), if we dig in our heels regarding a familiar or favored reality, we may fail. Perhaps what we thought was the truth is no longer the truth in today's environment.
Excerpted from Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott Copyright © 2004 by Susan Scott. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
|The Seven Principles of Fierce Conversations||xiii|
|Introduction: The Idea of Fierce||1|
|1||Principle 1: Master the Courage to Interrogalte Reality||13|
|2||Principle 2: Come Out from Behind Yourself into the Conversation and Make It Real||67|
|3||Principle 3: Be Here, Prepared to Be Nowhere Else||91|
|4||Principle 4: Tackle Your Toughest Challenge Today||124|
|5||Principle 5: Obey Your Instincts||165|
|6||Principle 6: Take Responsibility for Your Emotional Wake||187|
|7||Principle 7: Let Silence Do the Heavy Lifting||218|
|Conclusion: Embracing the Principles||241|
How did you go bankrupt?
Gradually, then suddenly.
-Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises
If you have opened this book, it may be because the conversations you've been having with your coworkers or with your family members often fail to produce the results you want.
Over ten thousand hours of one-to-one conversations with industry leaders, as well as workshops with men and women from all walks of life confronting issues of relationship and life direction, have convinced me that our work, our relationships, and, in fact, our very lives succeed or fail gradually, then suddenly, one conversation at a time.
Equally provocative has been my realization that while no single conversation is guaranteed to change the trajectory of a business, a career, a marriage, or a life, any single conversation can.
This book is a guide to tackling your toughest challenges and enriching relationships with everyone important to your success and happiness through principles, tools, and assignments designed to direct you through your first fierce conversations with yourself on to the most challenging and important conversations facing you. By the end of this book, you will have become highly skilled at crafting deeply rewarding professional and personal relationships-one conversation at a time.
Whether you intend to maintain positive results in your life or turn things around, considering all of the conversations you need to have could feel a bit discouraging, so let's take the curse off the somewhat daunting field of "communications." I'd like you to simply take it one conversation at a time, beginning with the person who next stands in front of you. Perhaps there are very few conversations in between you and what you desire.
We'll take it chapter by chapter, principle by principle. Once you get the hang of it, once you master the courage and the skills and, more important, enjoy the benefits of fierce conversations, there will be no going back. It could change the world. It will certainly change your world.
When Here Is Troubling
Be patient with yourself. You got here-wherever "here" is-one conversation at a time. Allow the changes needed at home or at work to reveal themselves one conversation at a time.
Sometimes here just happens. Following the high-tech carnage, crashing economies, corporate layoffs, and terrorist attacks of 2001, which altered our individual and collective realities in a heartbeat, it would be easy to conclude that life has grown too unpredictable, that there's nothing to do but hang on and muddle through as best you can.
Perhaps you received a major wake-up call. You lost your biggest customer-the one that counted for 40 percent of your net profit. Or you lost your most valued employee. Or you lost your job, and it wasn't due to a layoff. You lost the loyalty of your team. You lost your eighteen-year marriage, or the cohesiveness of your family.
Perhaps your company is experiencing turnover, turf wars, rumors, departments not cooperating with one another, long overdue reports and projects, strategic plans that still aren't off the ground, and lots of very good reasons and excuses why things can't be any different or better.
To experience what happens for many individuals and organizations facing challenges, put your right arm out and point your finger, then visualize pointing it at someone who is the bane of your professional or personal life right now. That's called the accountability shuffle. He did it, she did it, they did it to me.
Blame isn't the answer, nor is cocooning in the perceived safety of your home. Once you reflect on the path that led you to a disappointing or difficult point and place in time, you may remember, often in vivid detail, the conversation that set things in motion, ensuring that you would end up exactly where you find yourself today. It is very likely that you arrived at this destination one failed conversation at a time.
Ask yourself, "How did I get here? How is it that I find myself in a company, a role, a relationship, or a life from which I've absented my spirit? How did I lose my way?"
So many times I've heard people say, "We never addressed the real issue, never came to terms with reality." Or, "We never stated our needs. We never told each other what we were really thinking and feeling. In the end, there were so many things we needed to talk about, the wheels came off the cart."
In February 2002, Robert Kaiser and David Ottaway wrote an article for the Washington Post about the fragility of U.S.-Saudi ties. Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to the first President Bush, is quoted as saying, "Have we [the United States and Saudi Arabia] understood each other particularly well?...Probably not. And I think, in a sense, we probably avoid talking about the things that are the real problems between us because it's a very polite relationship. We don't get all that much below the surface."
Take your finger and touch your nose. This is where the resolution begins. This is the accountable position. If you want to make progress toward a better "here" in your professional or personal life, identify the conversations out there with your name on them and resolve to have them with all the courage, grace, and vulnerability they require.
When Here Is Wonderful
And on the positive side, you finally landed that huge customer, the one your competition would kill for. Or you successfully recruited a valuable new employee. Or you discovered that your team is committed to you at the deepest level. Or you just received a promotion. Or you enjoy a deeply fulfilling relationship. You are clear and passionate about your life.
You got to this good place in your life, this satisfying career path, this terrific relationship, gradually, then suddenly, one successful conversation at a time. Perhaps one marvelously fierce conversation at a time. And now you are determined to ensure the quality of your ongoing conversations with the people central to your success and happiness.
If you want better results at home or at work, you've come to the right place. After reading this book, gathering your courage, and working with the tools we'll explore together, you will return to your colleagues at work, to your partner at home, and, most important, to your self, prepared to engage in ongoing, groundbreaking conversations that will profoundly transform your life.
While it was tempting to give in to suggestions that I write two books-Fierce Conversations in the Workplace and Fierce Conversations at Home-breaking this material into two books would have been a mistake. Perhaps you've bought into the premise that we respond differently depending on whom we are with, that our work and home personas are really quite different. Perhaps you pay fierce attention to conversations at work but slip into a conversational coma at home, convinced there's nothing new, interesting, or energizing to discuss, preferring the company of the remote control. Perhaps you leave your warmth, playfulness, and authenticity at home and prop up an automaton at your desk at work, afraid to let your authentic self show up lest you be judged as poor fodder for the corporate feast. Perhaps you've told yourself that conversations at work are unavoidably and substantially different from conversations at home. That that's just the way it has to be. This is not true.
Each of us must discard the notion that we respond differently depending on whom we're with and that our work and home conversations are really quite different.
When you squeeze an orange, what comes out of it? Orange juice. Why? Because that's what's inside it. The orange doesn't care whether it's on a boardroom table or beside the kitchen sink. It doesn't leak orange juice at home and tomato juice at work.
When we get squeezed-when things aren't going well for us-what comes out of us? Whatever's inside us. To pretend that what's going on in our personal lives can be boxed, taped shut, and left in the garage while we are at work is hogwash. It seeps in everywhere. Who we are is who we are, all over the place. So if your conversations at work are yielding disappointing results, I'd be willing to bet you're getting similar results at home. The principles and skills needed to engage in conversations that produce mind-blowing, world-class results in the workplace are exactly the same principles and skills that produce mind-blowing, world-class results at home.
The Conversation Is the Relationship
Going hand in hand with the discovery that our lives succeed or fail one conversation at a time is a second insight, courtesy of poet and author David Whyte. During a keynote speech at TEC International's annual conference several years ago, David suggested that in the typical marriage, the young man, newly married, is often frustrated that this person with whom he intends to enjoy the rest of his life seemingly needs to talk, yet again, about the same thing they talked about last weekend. And it often has something to do with their relationship. He wonders, Why are we talking about this again? I thought we settled this. Couldn't we just have one huge conversation about our relationship and then coast for a year or two?
Apparently not, because here she is again. Eventually, if he is paying attention, it occurs to him, Whyte suggests, that "this ongoing, robust conversation he has been having with his wife is not about the relationship. The conversation is the relationship."
The conversation is the relationship. If the conversation stops, all of the possibilities for the relationship become smaller and all of the possibilities for the individuals in the relationship become smaller, until one day we overhear ourselves in midsentence, making ourselves smaller in every encounter, behaving as if we are just the space around our shoes, engaged in yet another three-minute conversation so empty of meaning it crackles.
Incremental degradation-if we compromise at work or at home; if we lower the standards about how often we talk, what we talk about, and, most important, what degree of authenticity we bring to our conversations-it's a slow and deadly slide. One company president has been known to stop candid input in its tracks with the pronouncement "Howard, I do not consider that a career-enhancing response."
Fortunately, few leaders exhibit such exaggerated violations of the general rules of communication. However, many work teams as well as couples have a list of undiscussables, issues they avoid broaching at all costs in order to preserve a modicum of peace, to preserve the relationship. In reality, the relationship steadily deteriorates for lack of the very conversations they so carefully avoid. It's difficult to raise the level if the slide has lasted over a period of years, and that's what keeps many of us stuck.
In our significant relationships, in the workplace, and in our conversations with ourselves, we'd like to tell the truth. We'd like to be able to successfully tackle the topic that's keeping us stuck or apart, but the task is too hard, we don't know how to avoid the all-too-familiar outcome of talks gone south, and besides, we've learned to live with it. Why wreck another meeting with our colleagues, another weekend with our life partner, trying to resolve the tough issues or answer the big questions? We're tired and we just want peace in the land.
The problem is, whether you are running an organization or your life, you are required to be responsive to your world. And that response often requires change. We effect change by engaging in robust conversations with ourselves and others.
Each conversation we have with our coworkers, customers, significant others, and children either enhances those relationships, flatlines them, or takes them down. Given this, what words and what level of attention do you wish to bring to your conversations with the people most important to you? Throughout the book we will explore principles and practices that will help you engage in conversations that enrich relationships, no matter how sensitive or challenging the topic.
What Is a "Fierce" Conversation?
But a "fierce" conversation? Doesn't "fierce" suggest menacing, cruel, barbarous, threatening? Sounds like raised voices, frowns, blood on the floor, no fun at all. In Roget's Thesaurus, however, the word fierce has the following synonyms: robust, intense, strong, powerful, passionate, eager, unbridled, uncurbed, untamed. In its simplest form, a fierce conversation is one in which we come out from behind ourselves into the conversation and make it real.
While many are afraid of "real," it is the unreal conversation that should scare us to death. Whoever said talk is cheap was mistaken. Unreal conversations are incredibly expensive for organizations and for individuals. Every organization wants to feel it's having a real conversation with its employees, its customers, its territory, and with the unknown future that is emerging around it. Each individual wants to have conversations that are somehow building his or her world of meaning.
If you are a leader, your job is to accomplish the goals of the organization. How will you do that in today's workplace? In large part, by making every conversation you have as real as possible. Today's employees consider themselves owners and investors. They own their time, their energy, and their expertise. They are willing to invest these things in support of the individuals, ideals, and goals in which they believe. Give them something real in which to believe.
What I've witnessed over and over is that when the conversation is real, the change occurs before the conversation has even ended.
Being real is not the risk. The real risk is that:
I will be known.
I will be seen.
I will be changed.
Think about it. What are the conversations you've been unable or unwilling to have-with your boss, colleague, employee, customer; with your husband, wife, parent, child; or with yourself-that, if you were able to have, might change everything?
My Own Journey
For thirteen years, I worked with corporate leaders through the auspices of TEC International, an organization dedicated to increasing the effectiveness and enhancing the lives of CEOs. Thousands of CEOs in eighteen countries meet for monthly one-to-one conversations with someone like myself to focus on their businesses and lives-from budgets, strategies, acquisitions, personnel, and profitability (or the lack thereof) to faltering marriages, health issues, or kids who are upside down.
Twelve conversations over the course of a year with each CEO. Since time is a CEO's most precious commodity, it seemed essential that our time together be qualitatively different from time spent with others. Each conversation needed to accomplish something useful. My success, and that of my peers, depended on our ability to engage leaders in conversations that provoked significant change.
In the beginning, a fair number of my conversations were less than fierce. They were somewhat useful, but we remained in relatively familiar, safe territory. Some, I confess, were pathetic. No guts, no glory. I wimped out. Either I didn't have it in me that day, or I looked at the expression on my TEC member's face and took pity. I don't remember those conversations. They had no lasting impact. And I am certain my TEC members would say the same.
The fierce conversations I remember. The topics, the emotions, the expressions on our faces. It was as if, together, we created a force field by asking the questions, by saying the words out loud. Things happened as a result of those conversations.
When people asked me what I did, I told them that I ran think tanks for corporate leaders and worked with them one-to-one. That was the elevator speech. What I really did was extend an intimate invitation to my clients, that of conversation. And my job was to make each conversation as real as possible.
As my practice of robust conversations became increasingly compelling to me, I imagined that I was turning into a conversational cartographer, mapping a way toward deepening authenticity for myself and for those who wanted to join me. The CEOs with whom I worked became increasingly candid, and with that candor came a growing sense of personal freedom, vitality, and effectiveness. The most successful leaders invariably determined to engage in an on-going, robust conversation with themselves, paying fierce attention to their work and lives, resulting in a high level of personal authenticity, ferocious integrity, emotional honesty, and a greater capacity to hold true to their vision and enroll others in it.
My colleagues worldwide asked me to conduct workshops on what I was doing, to pass along the skills needed for these conversations about which I had become so passionate. This required me to articulate for myself the approach I was developing. I led my first workshop in 1990.
In January 1999, I ran a redesigned, incredibly "fierce" workshop attended by sixteen extraordinary individuals from seven countries. In my workshops there is no role-play. No one pretends to be someone else. No one works on imaginary issues. It's all real play. All the participants engage in conversations as themselves, using real, current, significant issues as the focus for our practice sessions. Following one of the exercises, a colleague from Newcastle on Tyne, England, had tears in his eyes.
"I've longed for conversations like this all my life," he said, "but I didn't know they were possible. I don't think I can settle for anything less going forward."
Attendees e-mailed others about the impact of the workshop, about how they were applying the principles and using the tools they had learned, and about the results they were enjoying with their colleagues and family members. Word spread and the demand grew. Each subsequent workshop had a waiting list and each workshop went deeper. Corporate clients invited me to work with their key executives to foster courageous dialogue within their companies.
In November 2001, I recognized that my travel schedule had gotten out of hand when I sat down in my seat at the Sydney Opera House and reached for my seat belt. But my work with clients has been worth it. Over time I recognized that we were exploring core principles, which, when embraced, dramatically changed lives...one conversation at a time. Fierce conversations are about moral courage, clear requests, and taking action. Fierce is an attitude. A way of conducting business. A way of leading. A way of life.
Many times I hear words to this effect: "Your work has profoundly improved our leadership team's ability to tackle and resolve tough challenges. The practical tools allow leaders to become fierce agents for positive change." Or this: "You've helped me engage my workforce in moving the company to a position of competitive superiority!" Or this: "A fierce conversation is like the first parachute jump from an airplane. In anticipation, you perspire and your mouth goes dry. Once you've left the plane, it's an adrenaline rush that is indescribable." Or this: "This weekend my wife and I had the best conversation we've had in ten years. It feels like falling in love all over again."
This book began as informal class notes mandated by workshop attendees. As the significance of what we were addressing became increasingly clear, people requested more material. As a result of constant urging from clients and colleagues-"Write it down. This is life-changing stuff"-I began to assemble my notes, to put on paper what I'd been practicing for more than a decade. The following pages emerged as a road map for each reader's highly individual journey.
Here is what I'd like you to do. Begin listening to yourself as you've never listened before.
Begin to overhear yourself avoiding the topic, changing the subject, holding back, telling little lies (and big ones), being imprecise in your language, being uninteresting even to yourself. And at least once today, when something inside you says, "This is an opportunity to be fierce," stop for a moment, take a deep breath, then come out from behind yourself into the conversation and make it real. Say something that is true for you. For example, my friend Ed Brown sometimes stops in midsentence and says, "What I just said isn't quite right. Let me see if I can get closer to what I really want to say." I listen intently to the next words he speaks.
When you come out from behind yourself into the conversation and make it real, whatever happens from there will happen. It could go well or it could be a little bumpy, but at least you will have taken the plunge. You will have said at least one real thing today, one thing that was real for you. And something will have been set in motion, and you will have grown from that moment.
I will support you chapter by chapter by telling you true stories about fierce conversations that caused shifts in tectonic plates, both personal and professional. I will tell you about a sixty-second fierce conversation that changed a friend's life. I will explain what fierce conversations are and what they aren't. Why they're so rare. Why you would want to have them. How to have them. Once you master the courage and the skills and begin to enjoy the benefits of fierce conversations, they will become a way of life. The way of your life.
—from Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott, Copyright © September 2002, Viking Press, a member of Penguin Putnam, Inc., used by permission.
Posted March 14, 2007
Susan Scott has done a great job of stringing together a long set of 'pearls of wisdom'. After more than 20 years in HR, most of the people she quotes are familiar and their work has served me well. However, the way Susan Scott brings it together is more powerful than any of the individual work by itself. The challenge to think and act in new ways is stated in a practical manner with inspiring examples of real results--emphasis on practical. Anyone in a position of influence, or who wants to be in one, should hear this work. Susan Scott has a compelling speaking voice and her belief in what she is saying is clear. You may find it helpful to purchase the paperback to make some of the models easier to understand and memorize.
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Posted June 3, 2004
This book offers numerous useful principles that will help anyone become a better conversationalist and a more responsive listener. Read carefully because gems of very valuable content are scattered through the entire book, a sentence here, a quotation there, buried in long, interesting digressions about the author¿s life, people she¿s known and clients she¿s worked with over time. A judicious editor could have made a very sharp and effective pocket book out of this material, which is about managing intense, strong discussions with skill. As it is, you¿ll have to do some digging, but you¿ll have a perfectly good time doing it, particularly if you are a fan of New Age mantras and can handle a little touchy-feely vocabulary. We assure you that the lessons you¿ll learn about conversations ¿ including fierce ones ¿ will stand you in good stead.
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Posted June 19, 2004