I’ve been reading Susan Scott’s Fierce Conversations, which I find is a practical, insightful and life-affirming guide for achieving success in life and work—“one conversation at a time.”
I feel a certain kinship with Scott, though I don’t know her personally. For one thing she was raised in Tennessee and now lives in Seattle. She is described as the “master teacher of positive change through powerful communication.” In the Vested framework, trust, collaboration and clear communication are necessary attributes for achieving successful long-term relationships.
Also she’s invested in the transformative power of words and relationships. How often have you wondered whether things might have gone much differently if the words you chose in an important social or work-related conversation had come out differently? The words we use in our conversations are fierce because they have power: to heal, to transform or to harm.
“We resent being talked to. We’d rather be talked with,” she says. So in order to succeed, we must transform everyday conversations by employing effective ways to get the message across.
To accomplish this her book, which was published 12 years ago, describes seven principles of fierce conversations:
1. Master the courage to interrogate reality. As I frequently say, business happens! And as Scott says, “Markets and economies change, requiring shifts in strategy. People change and forget to tell each other—colleagues, customers, spouses, friends…Not only do we neglect to share this with others, we are skilled at masking it even to ourselves.”
2. Come out from behind yourself into the conversation and make it real. Scott’s insight is that “unreal” conversations are scary and non-productive. “When the conversation is real, the change occurs before the conversation is over.”
3. Be here, prepared to be nowhere else. Work, relationships and lives succeed or fail one conversation at a time, so “speak and listen as if this is the most important conversation you will ever have,” because it just could be.
4. Tackle your toughest challenge today. Burnout occurs because we’re “trying to solve the problem over and over. The problem named is the problem solved.” Identify and confront obstacles.
5. Obey your instincts. I really like this one—don’t just trust your instincts, obey them. Pay attention because generally speaking, “your radar screen works perfectly.”
6. Take responsibility for your emotional wake. Another great insight: there is no trivial comment: “Something you don’t remember saying may have had a devastating impact on someone who looked to you for guidance and approval.” Thus, learn to deliver the message “without the load.”
7. Let silence do the heavy lifting. Ah yes, when there is too much talk, conversations can become empty of meaning. “Slow down the conversation so that insight can occur in the space between words and you can discover what the conversation wants and needs to be about.”
In coming weeks I’ll return to Scott’s book because there is much wisdom and food for thought in its pages. A Vested relationship is all about getting the words and alignment right; as Scott says, “The conversation is not about the relationship; the conversation is the relationship.”