Published in 2008, Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott is certainly not a new book on communication in the work place. However, since publication, Fierce seems to have started something The book has inspired a successful management training concept, paved the way for a number of other books that cover similar terrain and brings urgency to the idea that we need to start talking (right now!) about the things that are deeply problematic in working life.
As a former CEO of several American companies, Scott saw first hand how communication is failing: pointless meetings, conflicting priorities and multiple projects that are never fully aligned with the people and functions they were designed to impact. Her book explores what is communication, why don’t we communicate and then, after investigating those basic questions, she begins to lay the ground work for how to have an effective conversation.
Scott uses the word ‘conversation’ understanding how abstract and multi layered the word ”communication” has become. Fierce is about clarity and, to achieve this, Scott takes us back to core principles of effective conversations: asking meaningful questions, showing empathy and the hard work of committed listening that needs to following.
Scott’s book is full of interesting quotes, one of which she writes, ‘While no single conversation is guaranteed to transform a company, a relationship, or a life, any single conversation can.’ Here she is reminding us of the potential value that any meaningful conversation can carry and how ‘any single conversation can’ change everything. A valuable insight, one that invites us to look back on our own lives, at those important moments (the day we met our partner, a successful meeting, an important job interview) that powerfully shows how our lives very often twist and turn and depend upon unexpectedly important conversations. ‘Speak and listen as if this is the most important conversation you will ever have with this person,’ she writes. If we can achieve the right level of commitment to our conversation partner, something wonderful can emerge.
Fierce Conversations is about being strong, powerful and authentic in the moment, which Scott qualifies by writing this, ‘a fierce conversation is one in which we come out from behind ourselves, into the conversation, and make it real.’ This is another reminder that much of the communication business professionals are engaging is more about pretence, protecting self esteem and creating smoke screens that conceal and constrict communication rather than liberate it. Scott touches upon these uncomfortable realities about human behaviour and how, especially in corporate life, adults struggle with the risk of self disclosure (we don’t like showing what we don’t know). These truths might be at the heart of why communication is perennially failing and that fear may be a major driver of human interaction. The book gives the reader a mandate to become more courageous— to get a little more fierce— in our interactions in order to open up opportunities.
To help us achieve this, Scott provides 4 key objectives that we need to bring into our interactions with others:
Objective 1, interrogate reality
Reality, Scott argues, is complex, multiple and is always competing with each other. As individuals, we do not own the truth. So every time we are talking to another person we need to be in a mode of inquiry. This sounds sensible. However, if we look at corporate life, we very often see a belief in expertise and knowledge, a belief that I am right and you are wrong. These entrenched beliefs might be undermining the ability of individuals and organisations to communicate productively.
Objective 2, provoke learning
A fierce conversation means that we should always walk away form the conversation with something new, or offering something new, to the other person. In one anecdote, Scott recounts how corporate leaders often have what she calls versations, talking ‘at’ someone rather than ‘with’ someone and how this data dumping offers little value or relevance to the listener.
Objective 3, tackle tough challenges
Are we as professionals free to openly discuss in the work place our concerns about a project or business strategy? Maybe not. According to Scott, we are more likely to see competent business professionals raising their concerns (frustrations?) in private to a sympathetic ear or in the corridor with colleague. If there is a problem with the project, Scott argues, we need to talk about those problems now.
Objective 4, enrich relationships
While it is possible to fulfil objectives 1 to 3, we can still leave people feeling frustrated and annoyed in the end. That means we need to ensure that every conversation should be designed to foster relationships as the foundation of efficient collaboration.
Scott’s philosophy about communication is relevant and pragmatic. Her ideas are simple and yet they present a fundamental shift on how we should be engaging with others everyday.
Above article originally appeared (and reposted here with permission) in MELTA News.