The conversation is the relationship
By Ellen François
“Auntie! I just finished a book called Fierce Conversations. You’ve got to read it.” My niece Alyssa in Seattle knows me well, and if she said I needed to read it, I most likely did, so I ordered a copy that same day.
I must admit I was rather put off by the title: FIERCE Conversations. I do not consider myself a fierce person, and I certainly was not excited by the idea of fierce conversations. To me, when I think of “fierce”, I think of ferocious, violent, brutal and spiteful.
But as I began reading the book, I saw that the author, Susan Scott, did not view the word “fierce” that way at all. Instead, she referred to synonyms such as robust, intense, strong, powerful, passionate, eager, unbridled, uncurbed and untamed. And, sure enough, as I continued through the book, I saw that her ideas and methods reflected that positive, albeit tough, way of thinking. To Susan, a “fierce” conversation is one in which we come out from behind ourselves into the conversation and make it real.
Here’s one of the big questions she challenges us to ask ourselves:
“Are the conversations you’ve been having with your co-workers or your family members failing to produce the results you want?”
And then, having identified a likely pain point for many of us, she proposes the bandage in the form of seven principles of Fierce Conversations. They are:
- Master the courage to interrogate reality.
- Come out from behind yourself into the conversation and make it real.
- Be here, prepared to be nowhere else
- Tackle your toughest challenge today.
- Obey your instincts.
- Take responsibility for your emotional wake
- Let silence do the heavy lifting.
Now I’m not going to discuss all seven of them in this blog entry. (Don’t they sound intriguing, though? I definitely feel there is material for a WWNG workshop to explore these ideas.)
Instead, I would like to share a few of my key take-aways, and then encourage you to discover this treasure for yourself.
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 if you’re in the bedroom or the boardroom or at the kitchen table. It doesn’t leak orange juice at home and tomato juice at work. When we get squeezed…that is, when things aren’t going well for us, what comes out of us? Whatever is in. Who we are is who we are, wherever we may be. So the ideas and techniques needed to engage in conversations that produce top-notch results in the workplace are the same as those that produce top-notch results at home. The seven principles apply to all conversations in all situations, both personal and professional.
The conversation is the relationship. Scott asserts that our lives succeed or fail one conversation at a time. If the conversation stops, all the possibilities for the relationship to grow and prosper diminish and then disappear. “Incremental Degradation”, as she calls it, refers to the process of lowering our standards about how often we talk to someone, or what we talk about, or how authentic we are in our exchanges. While reading this, I sadly thought of how many times I had brushed conflict under the rug, simply because I didn’t want to tackle it, didn’t want to risk hurting feelings, didn’t want to risk ruining a relationship. But Scott challenges us to be responsive to the world around us, and reminds us that the response often requires. She goes on to say that we can effect that change through robust, fierce, conversations; and since each conversation will do one of three things–enhance, flat-line or diminish the relationship, we need to practice her principles and techniques to insure that our conversations have the greatest chance of enriching those connections.
We need to master the courage to interrogate reality. This is Susan Scott’s Principle #1, and it’s the one that spoke to me most at a deeply personal level. One of the reasons is because of my ongoing pursuit of better communication skills. In a section of this chapter entitled “Taking Stock”, Scott talks about a concept she calls the corporate nod, which refers to times when a boss or leader asks for feedback and opinions, and everyone just nods their head, but no one speaks. We don’t know what people are thinking unless they tell us. And even then, we can’t be certain that they’re telling us the truth.
So she challenges us to look in the mirror and ask ourselves the following questions (these are just a few):
- How often do I find myself saying things I don’t mean, just to be polite?
- What about my marriage? What issues are we avoiding?
- If I were guaranteed honest responses to any three questions, whom would I question and what would I ask?
- What has been the cost to my (company, marriage, relationship) of not identifying and tackling the real issues? What has been the cost to me?
What is the truth? And does anybody own it? Scott states, and I agree wholeheartedly, that what each of us believes to be the truth is simply a reflection of our own perceptions of reality. We each see the world through our own filters. She does a wonderful, deep dive on this, using the analogy of a multi-colored beach ball. Bottom line? One of the goals of a fierce conversation is to get everyone’s reality out on the table so it can be examined and interrogated.
What I’ve shared with you here are just a few tiny morsels of this gem of a book. Scott had the great idea to put a “User’s Guide” at the end, so we already have some guidelines provided for how to format a work session, if any of you are interested in exploring this topic further.
As for me, I’m off to ponder a couple of Susan’s questions: to whom do I need to apologize? And who deserves my praise?