If you work in a bureaucracy, or have read Jack Welch's autobiography, here's a how to get on with it guide - or at least, a big chunk of it. If you haven't read Jack Welch's book - go take a look (try "straight from the gut"). The reference here is to the one regret Mr Welch admits to: not getting on with some things sooner. At the heart of Fierce Conversations is a practical model for doing just that, and in particular handling the difficult people stuff you might rather avoid and put off. And it's not a bad model at that.
The book is written in the "American Business Book" style - chatty, with lots of anecdotes - so on first glance feels a bit lightweight. I prefer my knowledge to be well polished and structured, ideally with evidenced research, and in contrast this book comes across as rather haphazard and slapdash. But if you can stand the American style, there's gold in them thar hills.
Susan Scott's model offers a good way to make sure you deal with the things you need to deal with in conversations, and critically shows how you can avoid the collateral damage it's easy to inflict when doing so. That's the real essence of the book - how to navigate through the difficult conversations you need to have. "Fierce Conversations" is perhaps catchier than "A practical way to have the hard conversations without getting into an argument", which is what this is really about. The principles here actually offer ways to avoid dangerously wild, hostile, or vicious behaviour, which "fierce" might suggest. The model Ms Scott presents to do this is a good one. This reflects the wider trend in academic and business thinking about how to get things done - which is to recognise that it's about people, stupid. This model includes some real understanding about how things go wrong, and what to do about it.
How much use you'll find this is hard to say - I suspect it depends on the kind of person you are. I loved it, but I tend to want to go for the jugular anyway, so something that means less risk of collateral damage is really practical and worthwhile to me. If you tend to avoid the unpleasant stuff, this might be really useful in providing a way to approach those conversations, but won't answer all the issues - these can be difficult to face, and whilst preparing using the model may help, it won't change introverts into extroverts, or vice versa. So it may not really solve all the problems of how you face the meeting you need to have. It's not an answer for everything, but a good tool for your toolbox nonetheless.
It would be possible to boil down the contents and present these in a more concise and elegant form, but this is the real stuff, not fools gold: definitely worth reading, and quite possibly buying - worth the five stars.
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.
This is a book I recommend to all my executive coaching clients, and they come back and tell me how useful it is.
How many times have you experienced problems at work because someone isn't getting a message that they need to be told? Whether it's because of fear of that person, or because we are reluctant to 'hurt their feelings', or because we worry that they are so fragile that giving them this essential feedback will send them off the rails, very often we suppress what we want to say.
Susan Scott makes the case for authenticity as the essential characteristic for a healthy workplace and a successful business, and gives useful pointers on how to deliver difficult messages without an accompanying emotional payload.
Note: The review that follows is of the Updated with New Material edition (2004). The "User's Guide" (Pages 267-287) has been added.
I read this book when it was first published in 2001 and then re-read it after reading Susan Scott's more recent book, Fierce Leadership. As she uses the term and explains in the first chapter of Fierce Conversations, "fierce" is synonymous with "robust, intense, strong, powerful, passionate, eager, unbridled, uncurbed, and untamed."
At work and in our personal lives, we engage in conversations (or at least have interactions) dozens of times each day. The challenge for us is two-fold: to always be truthful, and, to require others always to be truthful. Scott describes this as a shared, reciprocal "interrogation of reality" and suggests that it be guided and informed by seven principles. (She devotes a separate chapter to each.) As she correctly points out, most people prefer that others be completely truthful. In fact, that is a prerequisite for establishing and then sustaining trust. However, for various reasons, most people find it very difficult to be completely truthful. My own experience suggests that, more often than not, people are selectively truthful or evasive rather than dishonest. I am also convinced that, in face-to-face encounters, 75-80% of the impact is the result of body language and tone-of-voice, with only 20-25% the result of what is actually said. As Scott correctly suggests, it requires courage to develop and then strengthen a "fierce" mindset, one with strict accountability to ensure that whatever (and however) one communicates, the "message" (whether initiated or responsive) is honest. It must also be sufficient as well as relevant, given the situation.
This is an immensely complicated subject, one that requires meticulous care with regard to definition of terms, especially terms of engagement. For example, as Richard Tedlow suggests in his most recent book, Denial, many people are unwilling and/or unable to "face the facts," especially harsh realities. In her book, Scott cites dozens of examples of people who are unable to "speak to power," who employ what she calls "the corporate nod" to evade a stronger commitment, who neither fish nor cut bait, etc. In what I consider to be his most valuable book, The Book, Alan Watts examines those who cannot overcome the "taboo" to know and be who they are. And in Denial of Death, Ernest Becker asserts that, although physical death is inevitable for everyone eventually, there is one death that can be denied: that which occurs when we become wholly preoccupied with fulfilling others' expectations of us.
Scott urges her reader to "start each day by choosing one of the Seven Principles of Fierce Conversations as your focus for the day. Start with the first one and work your way through them...No matter which principles you choose to practice, in just one week, you will have practiced all seven principles. Then begin again, from the top. Imagine the shifts in your conversation and, therefore, your relationships as you become skilled at [them.]" My earlier reference to courage was deliberate. What Scott proposes will be very difficult for most people, as she well realizes. So I presume to add my own emphasis on patience as well as persistence, on being honest with yourself as well as with others, and on trusting what in fact you really can accomplish as well as trusting in the seven principles as you master them.
Those who share my high regard for this book are urged to check out two co-authored by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler. They are Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High and Crucial Confrontations: Tools for talking about broken promises, violated expectations, and bad behavior. Also Robert Cialdini's Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, and Christine Pearson and Christine Porath's The Cost of Bad Behavior: How Incivility Is Damaging Your Business and What to Do About It.
on 21 June 2012
We are all familiar with Steven Covey's 'seven habits of highly effective people' but I think the organisational world would benefit equally from Susan Scott's 'seven principles of fierce conversations' which are at the core of this book. My own favourite is principle 2 - 'Come out from behind yourself into the conversation and make it real'. Although, a close second is principle 7 - 'Let silence do the heavy lifting'. Each principle gets its own chapter in the book and is explored through many pertinent anecdotes, organisational case studies, example dialogues and assignments that really get into the practical detail of how to apply the thinking. This is a fast-paced workbook not a dry academic study and it will appeal to the pragmatists not the theorists amongst you. As an executive coach I found this book a real wake up call in terms of adopting a more challenging coaching style, it remains a great inspiration to me and I believe its messages are equally applicable to managers as well as coaches particularly in a complex, ambiguous and uncertain economic environment.