- On February 16, 2016
How many times do we repress the urge to say something?
Or don’t know how to start?
Or blurt something out which muddies the situation even more?
Or fear disrupting whatever tenuous balance exists?
How can we have rich, impactful conversations that actually create positive change?
There are few books that I would label as life-changing. Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott is one of them.
This book has had such a huge impact on me that I remember exactly where I was when I first got hooked. It was 2007. I was sitting in an Adirondack chair on the patio at a lake house in western Maryland, soaking up the words. I was tabbing, highlighting, and writing red notes in the margins. I read from sun up to well past sun down.
I was discovering the art of conversation for the first time. Not just any conversation–Fierce Conversation. Fierce– like intense, powerful, robust, impactful. These were not the kind of conversations I ever had in my life.
Here are just two ideas of many that have changed how I approach conversations:
1. Reality is complex and our view is only one piece of it.
This is where I was first introduced to the idea that reality is like a beach ball, a metaphor I frequently use in my coaching. If we‘re on the blue stripe, then the whole world looks blue and we think everyone else acts and thinks in blue. But they are each on different colored stripes. Reality is all those stripes. Once I realized this, curiosity about what it was like on those stripes came easier and my conversations focused on what bit was like to work together honoring all of our stripes.
2. Make most of the conversation about questions, not statements.
I did some ‘overhearing’ of conversations in an airport restaurant while waiting on a delayed flight. The results of my very unscientific assessment blew me away. Out of the nine conversations in my range of hearing, only one seemed to have any true interaction. In a couple of cases, I had to look twice because I wasn’t sure the two people were even talking to each other, they were so much on different tracks. Each trying earnestly to get their point across to the other, who was just as earnest at getting their own voice heard. All statements. No curiosity. No inquiring questions. No forward momentum.
Research shows that 17 seconds is the max amount of time we will actually listen before we start processing what we’ve heard in our own context…which means we’re not listening anymore. Instead of making statements, what if we asked questions to understand the foundations of the others stance? Then we could use our processing time to find new ways to work together.
Susan Scott provides personal and organizational examples of what ‘fierce’ conversations look like, including conversations around delegating, clarifying issues, and confrontation. Fierce Conversations should be required reading for anyone wanting to expand their leadership impact, personally and professionally.
How are your Relationships? Energized, powerful, supporting, robust? Or lackluster, mediocre, tenuous threads of civility? Change your Conversation, Change your Relationship!
Photo credit: DHerr 2015, Dansleikur (Dance) statues outside Perlan Observatory, Reykjavik Iceland.