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Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work and in Life One Conversation at a Time

Susan Scott
Berkley Trade, 2004
ISBN 0425193373

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Overview: Tough problems will never get solved if the parties involved can't even face and discuss what's really going on! And how we communicate with others has everything to do with the influence (or lack thereof) we achieve in those situations. This book, Fierce Conversations, maintains that our relationships and endeavors succeed or fail one conversation at a time, and provides tools and insights for making those interactions much more productive and effective for solving hard problems. "Fierce" doesn't mean menacing or threatening. Instead it refers to being able to confront the reality of difficult situations and discuss issues in robust, intense, strong, powerful ways.

From the introduction: "This book is a guide to tackling your toughest challenges and enriching relationships with everyone important to your success and happiness through principles, tools, and assignments designed to direct you through your first fierce conversations with yourself on to the most challenging and important conversations facing you [with others]."

Key points:
  • Focuses on helping change how we talk to each other - specifically to help us stop avoiding tough conversations and start constructively saying what we really think about a situation, standing up for what we need or what we think should happen.
  • The author worked for years with TEC, an organization for executives and much of the book was inspired by that work. At TEC she talked in-depth with executives to help them get at their own goals and help them and their teams confront critical issues and recognize important steps their companies needed to take.
  • Applicable to both personal and work situations and has ample examples from both spheres.

Reviewer's Personal Assessment:

I found the approach of this book to be very insightful and useful at way more than a "here's a great new techniques checklist" level. It made me think deeply about how much can be going on behind the scenes in any group, including project teams, to keep us from really talking about and dealing with the reality of complex, tough situations. This book provides useful models and techniques for having more constructive conversations about those tough situations, and provides many example conversations to illustrate. It goes well beyond the "mechanics," more so than other books I've seen on this topic, to force the reader to also consider their own personal roadblocks to having more fierce conversations.

Chapter 1 sets the stage. Its key premise is that companies (including projects) and relationships derail because people don't say what they're really thinking, in meetings and elsewhere, so that decisions aren't sound, people are not really bought in, and negative environments and behaviors continue to fester. It covers foundational concepts for what's really going on with people when we all behave this way. Then the chapter introduces techniques for personally expressing what you really think in an objective manner, and drawing other people out to do the same, to get everyone's "truths" on the table so that problems can really be tackled constructively.

The rest of the book then takes on specific aspects of how people avoid tough conversations, or don't fully "show up" in them out of fear or other negative emotions or reactions. Throughout it continues to address the two critical aspects of any conversation - our own participation and then that of everyone else. Its philosophy throughout is to help the reader first understand their own personal issues, reactions, and behaviors in tough workplace and relationship conversations. Then for every topic it moves forward from that foundation to show how similar issues and motivations affect the others in any important conversation, and how to use various techniques to get everyone past their personal obstacles to effective interactions, in order to ultimately resolve the real problems at hand.

Table of Contents:

Introduction: The Idea of Fierce
Principle 1: Master the Courage to Interrogate Reality
Principle 2: Come out from Behind Yourself into the Conversation and Make It Real
Principle 3: Be Here, Prepared to Be Nowhere Else
Principle 4: Tackle Your Toughest Challenge Today
Principle 5: Obey Your Instincts
Principle 6: Take Responsibility for Your Emotional Wake
Principle 7: Let Silence Do the Heavy Lifting
Conclusion: Embracing the Principles

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