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Prioritizing Authentic Talk in Business and Life: Thoughts on Fierce Conversations

If I hear someone say we are going through “unprecedented” times one more time, I’m gonna start ripping my hair out! 

Used to describe the times we are living in, the word, “unprecedented,” seems to be incredibly overused all of a sudden, to the point where it’s become trite, and the meaning has been watered down from the gravity it should convey. Unfortunately, its overuse doesn’t make it any less true.

We are in unprecedented times. And they are calling for each of us to bring more to the table. More empathy, more patience, more care and understanding, more out of the box thinking, more leadership, more and better conversations. And not just for business. But each of these actions apply equally to the relationships with our families (and friends) as well.  

A couple of years ago, I was introduced to the book, Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott. This book holds good lessons wherever you are in your life or your business. And perhaps even more importantly, when good communications skills – like during a pandemic! – become paramount.

When I first encountered this book, I recoiled against the title. It sounded “angry,” as if whatever “fierce conversation” I would be having might be painful. But what I found was really quite the opposite. This approach requires you – the participant of any conversation – to set aside your own agenda, your own ego, your “position,” and to really listen to the individual or group you’re talking with in order to have a passionate, powerful and unbridled conversation. And today, what could be more powerful than really listening to, and being understood by, the person(s) you are talking with?

The book proposes the following seven principles to conduct ‘fierce conversations’:

1. Master the courage to interrogate reality.

Being able to set aside your perceptions, your biases, your likes and dislikes – to be able to describe reality accurately, without laying any blame, regardless of whether it’s at home or in your workplace – is a critical place to begin your journey.

And from time to time, our reality shifts. People and situations change. It’s imperative that we share these changes and not mask them from one another if we’re going to get anywhere. 

2. Be here, prepared to be nowhere else

Have you ever woken up at some point and wondered, “how did my life get to where it is today?” Chances are pretty good that wherever you are at – good or bad – you didn’t just get there because you got dropped in the middle of a situation.

You are at where you are at in your life based on making one decision at a time.

Having one conversation at a time. 

And after lots of decisions, or conversations, you wake up and realize, you may not be where you want to be. Regardless of whom you’re engaged with at work or at home, as Scott says, “speak and listen as if this is the most important conversation you will ever have with this person. It may be.”

3. Come out from behind yourself into the conversation and make it real

Authenticity is tough. It requires letting your guard down. Being vulnerable. Occasionally showing that you may not have all the answers. 

That is okay. Scott suggests that when our conversations are “real” or unmasked, change often occurs even before the conversation is over.

4. Tackle your toughest challenge today

Most of us know what it’s like to procrastinate. And worse yet, we know what it feels like to kick the can down the road. Scott encourages us to tackle the tough stuff today.

Get rid of the big obstacles challenging your emotional and physical progress. You will feel a lot lighter and your movements will feel a lot less restricted with the big stuff off your plate.

5. Obey your instincts

You know that little voice in your head that keeps nagging at you? It’s called your instinct.  Pay attention to that. It’s trying to tell you something. 

Chances are you need to dig into whatever that voice is telling you and get some clarity around whatever is nagging at you. Ignoring the feeling won’t make it go away, and it sure won’t fix the problem if there is one.

6. Take responsibility for your emotional wake

Generally speaking, we all bring some kind of baggage to our conversations. What would it look like if you were able to distance yourself from your own agenda and be able to speak with clarity, conviction and compassion? 

Imagine the power of your own ability to communicate when you can harness that baggage and meet people on neutral territory.

7. Let silence do the heavy lifting

Sometimes we talk too much, communicating stuff we really need the people to whom we are speaking to hear and understand. And yet, we never really stop to let people absorb what it is we are saying. As a result, our conversations become one big jumble of our own agenda, to the point where they become empty of meaning. 

Scott suggests we slow down these conversations, that “insight can occur in the space between words, and you can discover what the conversation really wants and needs to be about.” It is okay to sit in silence for a few moments.

So, why did I choose to share all of this? 

Because while I enjoy a good conversation, a great mutually rewarding conversation is so much more difficult and nuanced than I had ever realized. I mean we are just talking, trying to get our points heard. Right? Wrong. 

I really appreciated how this book opened my eyes to how to be a better communicator with those around me. But it isn’t easy. As commentator, Joshua Uebergang wrote:

“Be warned: Fierce Conversations is no emotional walk in the park. You’re forced to face hard questions about your reality. ‘It takes a certain fearlessness to make your private thoughts public,’ writes Scott. ‘But if what you’re thinking makes you squirm and wish to wriggle away, you are probably onto something.’”

And let’s think about how that applies to the challenges most of us are currently facing as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.

Consider that even in the best of times, maintaining good communication skills can sometimes be a challenge. And when so many of the things we take for granted in our daily lives are withheld, provided in limited quantity, or simply denied altogether because of the need to shelter in place. The enormous stress heaped on everyone has the ability to make it easy to forget that we’re all in this together. 

The stress that most of us are being put under is a serious equalizer in many ways. So, when we speak to one another – about our relationships, our goals, our needs and objectives at work, our desires as workers and as connected humans, we need to always remember the relationship is the conversation.

Today, as has been happening for the past month, I will probably get no fewer than five emails – all of them junk – reminding me of the “unprecedented” times we are living in and how whatever it is that the person is selling, can help me make my life better.

At this point, I don’t really care too much about “getting better SEO results” (especially when they don’t understand that’s what I do for a living), “online learning strategies,” “web development resources out of the Ukraine,” or “the best cold-calling headhunters in the industry.” Every single one of these emails is talking at me, rather than initiating a conversation with me or bothering to get to know my needs.

Maybe today would be a good day to start pulling out that hair. After all, it has been over three months since my last haircut. That, too, is unprecedented.

But I will save that for a fierce conversation between my barber and me. 

– musings from the T-Suite
@30°19’34.6″N 98°50’40.3″W