Communication is key to the success of every project we manage. From brainstorming to delivering the final product, we work hard at making sure everybody is heading toward the same goal. We then ensure our stakeholders know what’s happening and when.
To get to that point, we participate in and facilitate numerous conversations. Some are easy and straight forward; some are challenging and uncomfortable.
This is why I looked forward to reading Susan Scott’s Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work and Life, One Conversation at a Time with my Mastermind group recently.
Scott believes that interpersonal difficulties, at both work and home, are often a direct result of our inability to communicate well. She encourages us to use conversations to connect deeper with colleagues, partners and family members, and suggests ways to handle strong emotions – those icky outbursts that can pop up when difficult conversations take place.
Fierce Conversation has a different feel to it than some of my other Mastermind favorites: Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose and Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly. Still, I took away four key messages from Scott and am working hard to incorporate these tips.
1. Remove the word “but” from your vocabulary and replace it with “and.”
I use “but” a lot when I talk and write, so I need to be intentional about swapping these short connecting words. Scott suggests that “but” stops a conversation while “and” continues it.
For example, if somebody needs my assistance and I am busy, I may be tempted to say: “I want to help, but I am in the middle of something right now.” The listener doesn’t hear me say that I want to help; she hears that I’m busy. If I replace “but” with “and,” I can continue the conversation with more details about when I can help.
Of course, this suggestion isn’t always perfect.
Recently I caused considerable confusion when I responded to a group text invite with: “Gathering sounds lovely and I already have a full weekend with family and activities.” The friend who issued the invitation had no clue whether I was coming or not, and I spent the next few minutes trying to explain my new philosophy. Oops!
2. Have fierce conversations with myself.
I always thought that having a conversation meant having it with others. Scott suggests that we use the same model and tools we use to communicate with others to communicate with ourselves. Begin by asking yourself, “What fierce conversations am I not having with myself that need to happen?”
Do you need to ask yourself why a relationship is strained? Or why work isn’t as fulfilling as it was three years ago? Granted the conversation might not happen out loud in a coffee shop. Try journaling instead. Sometimes the best energy we can give is to ourselves.
3. Accept that fierce conversations cannot be dependent on how others respond.
We’ve all been there: there are conversations we avoid because we know the other person will be upset, angry, defensive.
Scott says that if I know something must be changed, I am the one who needs to change it. Or as Tolle puts it, I need to not be attached to the outcome of a conversation. Gulp.
To help, Scott clearly lays out how to have tough conversations like The Confrontation (and these references are clearly labeled in the appendix. Score!).
She recommends using an opening statement that is either written down or practiced out loud. This statement includes naming the issue, an example that illustrates the situation you want to change, your emotions about the issue, clarification on what is at stake, your contribution to the problem, your wish to resolve the issue, and an invitation for the other person to respond.
And she says that this statement should last 60 seconds or less.
Let me repeat: 60 seconds or less.
I have yet to use this tip, and I appreciate that Scott includes in the book numerous examples of how this model has worked.
4. Believe that a careful conversation is a failed conversation.
What?! As a person from the upper Midwest, I thrive on gentle, careful conversations. (I bet you do, too.) Scott isn’t advocating that we move away from being kind and respectful. She does challenge us to ask questions when we don’t understand something. She advocates for being curious about others’ ideas and really digging deep into them.
When we’re careful, we’re not vulnerable, she says.
Vulnerability is something I’ve explored by reading Brown, who has researched and lectured on the topic extensively. Brown sees vulnerability as the birthplace of connection and the path to feelings of worthiness.
If we’re not willing to be vulnerable, we deprive ourselves (and others, frankly) of growth. If we’re not willing to be vulnerable, we’ll have lots of careful conversations that lead to frustration, if anywhere.
Fierce Conversations came with suggested assignments, which felt more like practice than homework. Thanks to that, these concepts feel applicable and like something I’d use the next time I need to have a difficult conversation.
What great books have you read lately?
Your partners in leadership.