If I ask you to come up with the mental image of a conversation where each person understands the other fully, what do you see? In my mind’s eye, I see two people holding both of each other’s hands. How about if I ask you? What image do you see in a conversation where each person is not understanding the other. Close your eyes and ask yourself. In my case, I see 2 people standing in the ocean being tossed around trying to grab each other but not being able to. See, sense, and feel the image your imagination comes up with. With these images in my mind, I read Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott.
In her book, a “Fierce Conversation” is described as “one in which we come out from behind ourselves into the conversation and make it real.” There are some important insights in this book that deserve repeating in this review and integrating into your life. The author, a Vistage chairperson, works with business people on a 1-1 basis to deal with the challenges of business. “Fierce Conversations” are essential because “the conversation is the relationship.” This is a reframing of our instinctual definition of what a relationship is since for most, it consists of memories of specific events and experiences.
Susan Scott’s mission in this book is to use the lens of conversations to view your world and your interactions with it. For me personally, this is a new exercise. We all reflexively make judgments of people and events around us based on the conversations we have, but how often do we step back, dis-identify from the conversation and look at the mechanics of it and see if there is something fundamental we can change to enrich our understanding and relationships?
In Principle 2 – Come Out from Behind Yourself into the Conversation and Make it Real – the most powerful for me – we are challenged to be authentic. This involves clarifying your purpose and first and foremost realizing that “all conversations are with me, and sometimes they involve other people.” The book challenges you to discard the many barriers we put up. These barriers mainly occur because of a lack of clarity about aim and direction. This chapter has some valuable exercises that provoke self-interrogation. Though we play many roles, the boss, the father, the husband, etc – fierce conversations challenge us to realize that the separation of these roles is not as clear-cut as we might think. The book explains that your positive and negative traits are “felt and experienced at a deeply personal level by ourselves and everyone on the receiving end of us, whether we acknowledge it our not” regardless of how well defined and separate the role we may be playing at the time.
The 4th Principle of “Tackling Your Tough Problem Today” is a primer for those who hate confrontation. Very precise strategies for doing so are given. While these strategies might not address any personal reasons for your avoidance of confrontation, strategies can be a good place to start. She does not ignore the personal reasons however and powerfully states that “while we often tell ourselves we are softening the message so as not to hurt someone else’s feelings, we are really trying to protect ourselves.”
Another warning is always “writing the script” ahead of time. This isn’t just about displaying negativity, it’s about restricting your awareness to such a degree that “we can be so locked into the responses we’re expecting that when someone responds differently, we don’t notice.”
We are given tools to start and work through difficult conversations but what about conversations that come up during the day at work, home, or around town? She states at the beginning of the chapter that we must “resist automatically accepting what you see at face value.” Learning to do this is often a lifetime work requiring constant self-awareness, which involves learning to see things in their essence. Essence can’t be determined by simple sense perception or logical thinking. It is done mainly through listening and developing intuition. She does an admirable job introducing this concept especially given that this one topic could easily be expanded into another book.
Using your sense perception only often leads to the tendency to make conclusions quickly, which is often a defense mechanism. It allows us to categorize things so we can deal with them but when people are categorized we ignore the human element. Dr. Robert Rhondell Gibson explains, that “we come to conclusions; and all of a sudden we exist in a dead world because everything we have come to a conclusion about is from that moment on never seen in any other way. We never see that constant change, the constant rhythm of life, the constant ebb, and flow of everything that does exist on this earth planet.” When you remain open to the conversation and let go of the conclusions and expectations you have of others and yourself, you can concentrate on the moment you are in the conversation and bring a new level of reality, truth, and awareness to it.
The main impact of Fierce Conversations for me has been to learn to step aside from my daily conversations and observe them dispassionately. This has created a private space in all of my interactions for me to become more aware of my emotional reactions and to have more confidence and strength in asserting what is true for me in a less emotionally charged way. I recommend the book Fierce Conversations both for the tools it provides as well as for the simple yet profound reminder that if you can bring self-awareness into each interaction, you end up doing a service not only for yourself but also for the person you are interacting with.