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The Six Minute Book Summary of The Book, Fierce Conversations, by Susan Scott

The Six Minute Book Summary of The Book, Fierce Conversations, by Susan Scott

Executive Summary

Susan Scott is a best-selling author and leadership development architect, who currently runs her own company – Fierce, Inc.  Her goal is to enable business leaders and CEOs across the globe to actively engage themselves in fierce conversation, not only with others, but most importantly with themselves.  After 13 years of actively engaging herself in consultation and fierce conversation, Susan decided to write a book to enable others to take part in meaningful, fierce conversation.

Fierce Conversations – Achieving Success at Work & in Life, One Conversation at a Time provides a simple, but specific, outline, along with detailed examples of her endeavors, to enable anyone to take part in meaningful conversation.  Susan emphasized two things throughout the entire book in order to ensure that the message was clear.  The first of which was the word “fierce,” which is defined as: robust, intense, strong, powerful, passionate, eager, unbridled.  The second thing Susan most emphasized was, “coming out from behind yourself and make the conversation real.”  Her constant emphasis on this phrase developed throughout the book, which eventually highlighted its true importance as it progressed.

Susan’s chapters correspond along with a list of helpful steps for fierce conversations, which are appropriately titled “Mineral Rights.”  These steps were also aided by a tool titled “The Decision Tree,” which helps the delegation and professional development of decisions made within a company or business.

Fierce Conversations dwells on the act of listening.  We must learn to listen to what others are saying and reflect on what is said, rather than engage our minds in what we will say next or allow our mind to wander while someone else is speaking.  Susan emphasizes that if a topic is brought up by someone else, even though it may appear to be pointless or off-topic to us, it must be important to them or have some deeper meaning related to the issue at hand.  Without being a good listener, we cannot properly identify the issue and therefore progress with meaningless talking or blowing of hot air with little, to no, content.

This book was written very well, and has much humor at points in order to captivate the reader’s attention to our similarities.  Fierce Conversations was written in clear terms in order to relate with the reader, along with an ingenious compilation of information to give great supportive structure throughout the book.  Susan gave many prime examples of common thoughts and situations that anyone can relate to.  Overall, Fierce Conversations is a very well-structured and thought out book.  I highly recommend it to anyone.

The Ten Things Managers Need to Know fromFierce Conversations

1.            Focus on being Fierce – Don’t focus on being the boss; focus on the relationship between you and your employees.  Encourage yourself to create a passionate and lasting relationship with someone else, or an employee, by relating to what they have to say.

2.            Interrogate reality – challenge your employees and co-workers to express how they really feel, rather than locking everything up in a box and trying to ignore it.  Relationships will fail unless the other person expresses how they feel or what they’re thinking.

3.            Make the Conversation Real – don’t allow your personal wall to block who you truly are to others.  Challenge yourself to come out from behind your emotional barrier and speak to others in an equal emotional light and authenticity.

4.            Be Prepared to be Nowhere Else – When we devote our attention to nothing else than the words being spoken, and the person speaking them, we acknowledge the importance of what they have to offer and their existence.  If our eyes roam the room while they speak in an uninterested manner; they will not feel appreciated and feel as if their contribution to the company or relationship is not valid.

5.            Confront Your Toughest Challenge – Take the time to properly identify the problem or issue at hand.  Dodging the problem or issue will do nothing but prolong the dilemma and allow the most extreme result to come of it.

6.            Obey Your Instincts – Don’t allow others to influence your instinctive decision or observation.  Make your own conclusion based on your instincts and inner thoughts, while allowing others to do the same.

7.            Take Responsibility for Your Emotional Wake – Regardless of our wake being positive or negative, our wakes are larger than we realize them to be.  Our emotional wake is the aftermath of what we’ve said during or after the conversation and how it’s affected the other person we are having a conversation with.

8.            Let Silence Do the Heavy Lifting – Allow silence when having a conversation; the more important the topic, the longer the silence.  When we allow a moment of silence in between some of the things we say, it will allow the words to sink in.

9.            Use the Mineral Rights Guideline – When dealing with a problem or complex issue, use Mineral Rights as your tool for indentifying, clarifying and taking appropriate action.

10.            The Decision Tree is Your Playbook – Establish a hierarchy within your company or business to delegate what types of decisions lower managers (or people who work directly with problems) can make to allow quicker response toward fixing the problem.

Full Summary of Fierce Conversations

Introduction

Susan begins the book by first establish the meaning of “fierce” with the reader.  Fierce – meaning robust, intense, strong, powerful, passionate, eager and unbridled.  Fierce conversations are the threshold of creating and maintaining a healthy relationship between ourselves and a boss, co-workers, family, friends or loved ones.  These fierce conversations may even be able to mend relationships that are already deteriorating.  The idea behind fierce conversations is to come to terms with reality.  One person’s reality may be different than another person’s; it relies on truth, which it held by both people.  No one has the absolute truth when it comes to a fierce conversation because both people’s perception of reality is part of the truth.  Fierce conversations are designed to intensify relationships by interrogating the reality of both sides and ending them with conclusions that appeal to both observations.  The phrase emphasized most here, and throughout the book, is “come out from behind yourself and make the conversation real.”  The idea of this statement is to encourage people to take down any sort of emotional barrier or to challenge an avoided topic that needs to be discussed.

Master the Courage to Interrogate Reality

This chapter started with a quote by Lillian Hellman to support the idea that people, and their interpretation of reality, is always changing.  Lillian wrote, “People change and forget to tell one another.”  The degradation of relationships – whether it is work-related or private life – is due to the fact that people don’t communicate their change in thinking, living or viewpoint of reality.  If we want to ensure the lasting of relationships, we must first consider someone else’s reality as part of ours.  Our relationships with other people rely on openly speaking what we are thinking; and some fail because we do not say what we’re really thinking and leave the other person in the dark.

Susan compiled a short list of questions to help us come to terms with and interrogate our own reality.  Some of these are:

“What are my goals when I converse with people?”“How often do I find myself–just to be polite–saying things I don’t mean?”“When was the last time I said what I really thought and felt?”“When was the last time I confronted someone at work or at home about his or her behavior and ended the conversation having enriched the relationship?”“What is the conversation I’ve been unable to have with someone?”

These questions will help aid ourselves in interrogating our own reality, but understanding how it affects another person’s reality based on our decision of withholding what we really want to say or courageously speaking our interpretation of reality.  Everyone’s reality is valid and is worth being considered, if realities are not explored by both people in the relationship it may cause a buildup of emotional tension that will take twice the time and energy to clean up after than it would have been.  The three steps of interrogating reality with another person are:

Make a proposal – make it a point to tell the other person that you value the other person’s view and ask them to engage in fierce conversation. Check for understanding – check for understanding on how we interpret someone’s expression of their own reality. Check for agreement – once the other person’s reality is expressed, we must express ours and discuss if both realities agree with each other.

The most important thing about interrogating reality while engaging in fierce conversation is to avoid laying blame.  Inviting other people to express their reality and then laying blame on them will give the impression that we didn’t really want to consider how things are in their eyes or how they interpreted things; and usually activates our defense mechanisms.  Both people leave the conversation without the relationship being enriched, but deteriorated instead.

Susan explained removing the word “but” from our vocabulary; the reason for this being, if we began a statement with a compliment and then use the term “but” as a transition, this may lead the other person to believe that we just used that as an opener in attempt to keep their guard down.  Instead, use the term “and” as a transition in this type of situation to show that not only is what we first said true, the next statement is also true.  I explained this to a potential employer at one point during an interview I had went through, and he replied with, “You’re right. Whenever we say the word ‘but’ everything else we just said before then gets forgotten and thrown out the window.”

Come Out from Behind Yourself into the Conversation and Make It Real

“You cannot have the life you want, make the decisions you want, or be the leader you are capable of being until your actions represent an authentic expression of who you really are, or who you wish to become.”(Scott, 2004)

This is one of the most important points when engaging in fierce conversation.  We must encourage ourselves to openly express our thoughts and emotions while speaking with others to give the conversation substance and authenticity.  This can be a very uncomfortable position to be in, but when this unknown territory gets explored more frequently it will become natural.  For example, if I wanted to express the importance of something and don’t communicate or stress how important it really is to me, it may come off as a lack of interest.

People often don’t express their true thoughts and feelings in a work setting because they feel that work should be left at work and personal life should be left at home.  Susan argues this by showing that we are who we are, everywhere we go.  For example, if someone we dearly loved recently passed away.  The sudden loss and emotional shock is carried with us at home, and at work.  It is impossible for us as human beings to turn off all emotions and our personality in our private lives with a façade or masking who we truly are.

In order for us to make conversation real, it may require us to have a conversation with ourselves to determine our own reality or to resolve an inner conflict.  Susan included a list of 7 steps, called Mineral Rights, which will aid in having fierce conversations from ourselves.

Identify your most pressing issue – what the most important issue that needs to be resolved is. Clarifying the issue – determine how bad the problem is and how long it has been going on. Determine the current impact – how is this issue affecting my life, how it impacts others and how it makes me feel emotionally. Determine the future implications – how this will affect me in the future if it is not resolved, how it will affect others and our emotions. Examine your personal contribution to the issue – how we have effectively allowed the issue to persist, get worse and the actions / decisions we have made contributing to it. Describe the ideal outcome – what the desirable outcome from addressing and resolving the issue, and how we feel emotionally about such resolution. Commit to action – follow through with your decision and be determined to overcome all obstacles on the path to resolving the stated issue.

Be Here, Prepared to Be Nowhere Else

“If we wish to accomplish great things in our organizations and in our lives, then we must come to terms with a basic human need: We must recognize that humans share a universal longing to be known and, being known, to be loved.”(Scott, 2004)

These words, written by Susan, sank very deeply when I first read them.  The importance of recognizing the existence of another person and valuing their reality is key to fierce conversation and the value of relationships that form, or deepen, because of them.  Devoting both time and attention into what others have to say is fulfilling the other person’s need of being known.  By listening to what others have to say, we are attempting to understand their interpretation of reality through empathy.  However, listening is only half the battle, pay attention to the other person’s body language, tone of voice and level of emotion they speak with as well; we must show interest, concern and the value of what another person is saying to us.  Sitting slouched in a chair, avoiding eye contact and staring at the wall shows lack of interest and tells the other person that you aren’t really interested in what he or she has to say.

Susan dwells on the importance of if we really ask someone something; they will really answer in return.  Showing complete interest in what another person has to say will not only produce the results you want, but it also encourages him or her to do the same in the future and establishes a strong relationship with that person.  People’s realities are always changing.  Establishing a relationship is the easy part, but maintaining such relationships is the difficult task.  We must be willing to engage in fierce conversation on a regular basis to ensure that both parties understand where each is going and how their views have changed, if any have changed at all, because the conversation is the relationship.  Susan relates conversations to being like a beach ball, which is divided in four sections and a different color on each.  If we held the ball from our position with the blue section facing us, everything from our perspective will be blue but will be a different color from another person’s angle or point-of-view.

“A fierce conversation is not about holding forth on your point of view, but about provoking learning by sitting with someone side by side and jointly interrogating reality.  The goal is to expand the conversation rather than narrow it.  Questions are much more effective than answers in provoking learning.”(Scott, 2004)

Susan concludes this topic by discussing what she learned at an early age and called, The Decision Tree.  The decision tree in my eyes was more like a map of delegation and consisted of four categories, which are:  Leaf Decisions, Branch Decisions, Trunk Decisions and Root Decisions.  The goals of the decision tree are: to identify clearly which categories decisions and actions fall into, to provide employees with a clear upward path of professional development, and to assist companies in consciously developing grassroots leadership within their organizations, freeing up executives to take on more challenging responsibilities themselves.

Leaf Decisions:  Make the decision and act upon it.  Don’t report the action(s) taken.

Branch Decisions:  Make the decision and act upon it.  Report the action(s) taken at regular daily, weekly or monthly intervals.

Trunk Decisions:  Make the decisions, but report the decision before acting upon it.

Root Decisions:  Make a joint decision with the input of many people.  If poor decisions are made, it could potentially harm or destroy the organization in the long run.

Tackle Your Toughest Challenge Today

We must effectively prepare the presentation of an issue before a meeting or fierce conversation to prevent incoherent or incomplete explanations of the problem.  Susan quoted Pat Murray directly to support her claim.  This quote is, “The problem named is the problem solved.”  This is true because Susan later goes on to explain that if we do not accurately identify the problem, the time and effort put into trying to resolve the issue will be wasted.  Taking a little more time to properly identify an issue will be less costly and more rewarding in the long run.

When speaking to people one-on-one to resolve an issue, it’s important to have a well-planned and thought out opening statement which, as Susan suggested, should last 60 seconds.  Susan stated that there are ten components of the confrontation model, and they are:

Opening Statement:

Name the issue – the problem named is the problem solved. Select a specific example that illustrates the behavior or situation you want to change – examples are important, so be sure to think of an example that best supports your issue. Describe your emotions about the issue – describe the emotions you’re feeling because of the issue and that you are affected by it. Clarify what is at stake – clarify what is at stake for you, others, the customer, the team, the organization or the family. Identify your contribution to this problem – recognize any position you may have played in provoking or prolonging the issue. Indicate your wish to resolve the issue – be sure to use the term “resolve” when stating this, and support it by restating the issue. Invite your partner to respond – encourage the other person to join in fierce conversation you by inviting them to voice their thoughts and emotions on the issue.

Interaction:

Inquire into your partner’s views – this is the part where listening is most important.  Asking questions is priority at this point, only make statements to clarify or for further understanding.

Resolution:

What was learned? – use this point to make understanding on how the issue being discussed will be resolved and the methods for achieving resolution. Make an agreement – make an agreement with the person and determine how you will hold each other responsible for keeping it.

Obey Your Instincts

Instincts are composed of listening to your internal voice and acknowledging your reference point.  Don’t persuade yourself that your instincts are incorrect, or as some say “uneducated thinking.”  Examine and evaluate more than surface evidence; look forclue or hints in body language, intent and emotion behind another person’s words.  Express how you feel emotionally, this may be difficult and sometimes embarrassing, but is crucial to emphasize that you are affected by the problem being discussed.  Although our instincts are correct sometimes, they are also sometimes wrong.  Sometimes we can’t get passed our own conclusion that someone has a hidden agenda against us and intended something completely different from what they were saying; don’t fall into this trap.

Take Responsibility for Your Emotional Wake

Remember that everything you say affects someone else emotionally, be conscious about how, when and what you say.  Sometimes we make comments that may have caused someone to suffer emotional collapse, and also speak words of inspiration for someone later in life.  Our words have a lingering effect (emotional wake) on the people we interact with.  We, however, have no idea how another person to react to what we say, so it’s best to take your own personal precautions to be more conscious about others when we speak.  Be prepared to deal with conflict if the other person does not react to your words as planned.

Let Silence Do the Heavy Lifting

Allow silence after statements or questions in order to provoke thinking and mental digestion of what was said.  Silence gives time to reflect on and identify the problem at hand, rather than the effect of everything that has happened as a result.  This promotes resolution, rather than the person playing the blame game.  The more emotionally loaded the person is over the issue, the more time of silence should be allowed.

Conclusion

These previous seven principles that Susan elaborated on in Fierce Conversations are the basic tools needed to engage in fierce conversation with other people.  Although some may be difficult to follow at times, they are certainly important to consider for the sake of your organization, personal relationships and yourself.  Fierce Conversations is a must-have in today’s fast-paced world.

“Fierce conversations’ mission is:  Change the world– one conversation at a time.”(Scott, 2004)

The Video Lounge

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zlAOGisORgQ

Susan effectively uses the skills taught within her book, Fierce Conversations, while telling others about such conversations.  She allows effective silence for her words to sink in, while successfully expressing powerful emotion and intent.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TPg9xDbQQNU

The speaker in this video gives direct quotes and elaboration on very important qualities of the book’s information.  It is a very effective, but brief, overview of the book as a whole.

Personal Insights

Why I think:

The author is one of the most brilliant people around, because:

She wrote her book in terms that could be understood by anyone, and gave more than adequate examples to support her information.  She added a good mixture of serious, in-depth elaboration of a topic and mixed it with a splash of humor throughout.  Overall it was a very well thought out book and I encourage anyone interested to read it as well.

With business conditions today, what the author wrote is true, because:

With today’s fast-paced personal and business environments, we often become “too busy” to engage in fierce conversation with people.  I encourage everyone to sit down with one person, without distractions, and to talk while listening intently to what they have to say.  As Susan consistently emphasized throughout her book, the conversation is the relationship.

If I were the author of the book, I would have done these three things differently:

1.      The beginning; it was a slow start and took time to gain speed.

2.      Although the examples were very helpful, it started to get a little overbearing reading about several examples to express a point.  I would trim down a few of the non-crucial examples or stories.

3.      Some of the chapters were long and contained information that could potentially be a chapter of its own.

Reading this book made me think differently about the topic in these ways:

1.      At first glance of the title, I expected to learn to be a ruthless and feared opponent in debates.  I was shockingly mistaken after reading the Preface.

2.      Fierce conversation is not about mastering persuasion and convincing others to succumb to my personal way of thinking.

3.      Expressing emotion and empathy is a caring way to encourage conversation into resolution.  The cold-hearted and careless approach is not favorable to lasting relationships with others, whether it’s business or personal.

I’ll apply what I’ve learned in this book in my career by:

1.      Actively engaging myself in a healthy relationship with my co-workers by exploring fierce conversations and building relationships upon them.

2.      Listening more, and talking less. Listening to what others have to say and devoting my full attention to them is most important. I will try not to engage myself in “versations” any longer.

3.      Applying the Decision Tree where applicable.  I am starting to take part in a management role and it’s a new experience for me.  I intend to apply this process where, and when, I can.

Here is a sampling of what others have said about the book and its author:

“Scott maintains a consulting firm, Fierce Conversations, which provides leadership programs on creating positive change through powerful communication. The conversations she refers to may be the very ones that you have been avoiding in your relationships at work or at home. They involve bringing those brutally honest and sometimes painful subjects to the surface with your coworkers, your spouse, and especially yourself. The case studies from her consulting practice are very instructive. Typically, personal conflicts may be so destructive as to sabotage the day-to-day operations of a company and affect performance, morale, and income. In her meetings with coworkers, Scott attacks the issues head-on, getting everyone to speak up about the things that he or she has been thinking but dares not say. The result is a clearing of the air, a breaking of tension. Sometimes people are “made available to industry,” her euphemism for being fired. The results are usually powerful, and Scott’s workbook exercises will allow readers to have effective, life-changing fierce conversations of their own.”(Siegfried)

“As Ken Blanchard notes in his foreword to this book, a course in conversations won't be found in an M.B.A. curriculum. But the key to real business success, according to author Susan Scott, is what she calls "fierce conversation," an honest, meaningful, authentic exchange between two people. Reminding us that "the conversation is the relationship," she counsels us to speak with clarity, conviction, and compassion.”(Barnes & Noble)

Summary of Reviews

Both reviews were accurate generalizations of the book and did highlight several important points about it.  However, the structure of Mr. Siegfried’s review was a little dramatized and over-the-top.  He did highlight one very important characteristic about the book when he stated, “creating positive change through powerful communication.”  Along with Barnes & Nobles’ when explaining the book’s purpose is to establish, “an honest, meaningful, authentic exchange between two people.”

Bibliography

Barnes & Noble. (n.d.). Retrieved from Barnes & Noble: http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Fierce-Conversations/Susan-Scott/e/9780425193372/?itm=1&USRI=fierce+conversations+achieving+success+at+work

Scott, S. (2004). Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work & in Life, One Conversation at a Time. New York: The Berkley Publishing Group.

Siegfried, D. (n.d.). Retrieved from Booklist Online: http://www.booklistonline.com/ProductInfo.aspx?pid=348057

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Contact Info: To contact the author of this “Summary and Review of Fierce Conversations,” please email aaron.schmiderer@selu.edu and aaron.schmiderer@gmail.com. 

Biography

David C. Wyld (dwyld.kwu@gmail.com) is the Robert Maurin Professor of Management at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, Louisiana. He is a management consultant, researcher/writer, and executive educator. His blog, Wyld About Business, can be viewed at http://wyld-business.blogspot.com/. He also serves as the Director of the Reverse Auction Research Center (http://reverseauctionresearch.blogspot.com/), a hub of research and news in the expanding world of competitive bidding. Dr. Wyld also maintains compilations of works he has helped his students to turn into editorially-reviewed publications at the following sites:

Management Concepts (http://toptenmanagement.blogspot.com/)

Book Reviews (http://wyld-about-books.blogspot.com/) and

Travel and International Foods (http://wyld-about-food.blogspot.com/).                

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