Book Review: Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott

For the longest time I have known about Susan Scott. And for about the same length of time I have wanted to read her book Fierce Conversations. Usually being the one that drives actions not caring whether the team was with me or not, I began to notice that this was quite an ineffective way to get things done and was quite frustrating having to do everything by myself.

Becoming older (*cough, cough*) and wiser, I recognised that “achieving greater than I can alone, can only be done with and through others”. This put me on a path of learning how to, among other things, bring people with me on the journey. It must be noted that patience goes hand-in-hand with this, but that’s for a future post!

How I came about reading this book.

Way back in 2007 when I started work at TEC, Susan’s name – and her work around having conversations that help you to achieve success at work and in life – was already deeply embedded into the global TEC/Vistage fabric. Not bad for a book that was only written five years earlier.

Fast forward to 2015 and I was finally ready to receive Susan’s wisdom.

An important word before we progress. When Susan says ‘fierce’ don’t think of it as aggressive, rather “when you think of a fierce conversation, think passion, integrity, authenticity, collaboration. Think cultural transformation. Think of leadership.” It’s an important distinction to make and keep in mind.

This book in a nutshell.

Susan’s approach to having fierce conversations falls into seven principles. The principles that resonated with me the most were about interrogating reality, being present in your conversations, and obeying your instincts.

On the flipside, the principles that are a constant work in progress for me involve taking responsible for your emotional wake, and letting silence do the heavy lifting.

The other two principles encompass making your conversations real by coming out from behind yourself – being authentic and original, and tackling your toughest challenge today – confronting the real obstacles in your path.

A cornerstone of Susan’s work revolves around the philosophy that “the relationship is the conversation.” Reading this book you will understand how vital the right conversations are, and how without them your relationships – at work and at home – become smaller and so degraded it renders them worthless.

[pullquote style=”right”]When you think of a fierce conversation, think passion, integrity, authenticity, collaboration. Think cultural transformation. Think of leadership.[/pullquote]

Why you should read it.

Susan steps you through each of these principles, distilling practical advice from personal experiences, and forcing you to hold a mirror up to your own actions to help you realise where you may be going wrong. You’ll be OK though, because Susan includes in every chapter an assignment that helps you define you’re here-and-now, and develop methods to improve your life one conversation at a time.

I can guarantee that you will have many “ah-ha” moments, mixed in with plenty of “oh crap! I’ve been doing that wrong my whole life. No wonder I’m struggling” moments.

How does it relate to being a company director / board member?

On a board you need to be more persuasive in your communication and be able to bring the rest of the board with you on a journey. Having constant effective conversations will ensure you are building and maintaining beneficial and meaningful relationships with your fellow board members. This will help when you need to get things done and garner support for your ideas and suggestions for the organisation.

When the members of a board get along and can appropriately challenge and stretch each other, it makes for a much more pleasant and fun environment and experience. So important particularly as a volunteer director.

Best piece of advice.

Chapter four had the uncanny ability to make me feel incredibly uncomfortable. When this happens – whether in a speech, or a book, or advice from my loved one – I know it’s a clear sign that I need to learn and act on the information I’m receiving.

Chapter four is all about Principle Four: “Tackle your toughest challenge today”. Sounds innocuous, right? Hmm, not so.

This principle is about those conversations you aren’t having, but that you think you are. You know, the ones that are all about tough challenges; when someone has wronged you, a fellow board member is not pulling their weight, or the CEO needs to be pulled into line.

Susan uncomfortably shows us the error of our ways in which we usually deal with these types of challenging conversations (you probably know one of them as the s**t sandwich); and then shares a seven-step process to approach these conversations going forward that saves embarrassment, clearly sets out the situation, and invites the other person to contribute toward the discussion and outcome. I can’t guarantee that you won’t feel any less comfortable during these types of conversations; however, they will become less daunting and easier to manage.

I am no longer a sledgehammer.

How it has changed me.

I am more present. In everything, not just conversations. I tend to move quickly, and taking the time to be more conscious about what’s happening in the here and now makes me feel more alive.

I have also accepted the wonder of silence and what it can do to deepen a conversation. If I feel that the other person has more that they are not sharing, I let the silence hang. It invites them to share more and get to the real heart of an issue and/or their feelings. It’s uncomfortable at first, but you get used to it. Silence is where the real magic can happen.

You can read all about Susan, her team, and her fierce philosophy here. You can buy Fierce Conversations here, and continue being fierce by reading The Fierce Blog here.

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