Friday, April 16, 2010

Facilitate … fierce conversations!

… robust, intense, strong, powerful, passionate, eager, unbridled…

These are the words used to describe a fierce conversation by Susan Scott in her book “Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work & in Life, One Conversation at a Time” (A Berkley Book, Penguin Group, New York, New York). A client recently introduced me to the book and as I read it, I found it resonated with my personal and professional beliefs about conversations. Fierce conversations are not battles, arguments, or ugly confrontations. They are a way of seeking and working and talking … about the ways that we in our personal lives and in our community and organizations can be the best that we can be. Fierce conversations are a way of making every conversation count.

Susan Scott explains seven principles of fierce conversations of which some are:
· Acknowledge the “real” or true topic or issue that needs to be discussed. Then talk about it!
· Be “in the moment.” Scott states that we need to “speak and listen as if this is the most important conversation you will ever have with this person.”
· “Tackle your toughest challenge today.”
· Value silence in conversations.

Examples from the book show how a fierce conversation can transform a relationship, a work place, a leader …

Before Fierce: Focus on activities
After Fierce: Focus on results

Before Fierce: Beating around the bush, skirting the issues
After Fierce: naming and addressing the issues truthfully and directly

Before Fierce: an “us versus them”, “me versus you” culture
After Fierce: high levels of alignment, collaboration and partnership

I think I am using fierce conversations in my facilitation work. When I facilitate, I try to help participants fully explain their ideas about a topic, identify and explore the facts, listen to others’ opinions, state what they think about the opinion, and mutually work towards a solution. I help them identify and directly talk about the “elephants in the room” (undiscussable issues); respectfully and directly share what they believe and think; and build upon each other’s ideas for better decisions. Recently, I facilitated a staff team session in which a supervisor and team member finally dealt with an ongoing frustration. They openly talked about the different ways they organize special events, the conflicts they experience because of their different styles, and then developed ways to work successfully together.

I will use Susan Scott’s book to deepen my ability to participate in and facilitate conversations that are meaningful, powerful, insightful, passionate … fierce.

My conversation questions are: How do you help participants in groups hold fierce conversations? What are examples of fierce conversations you have been involved in?


  1. Thanks again, Barb, for the great advice... fierce conversations are definitely the hardest to have but are the most rewarding. I'll have to look up Susan Scott's book to see how I can be better at having these kinds of conversations.

  2. The book is great. Easy to read and to start to apply. The challenge, of course, is in the ongoing, daily integration of fierce conversations into everyday life. Check the website:

  3. I just had a fierce conversation with an organization that saw limitations rather than opportunity (from my perspective anyway!). A decision had been made prior to them talking with me, one that directly affected me. When I discussed the matter with the other party, the decision was made. I tend to see a 'no' as negotiable. I also realize that this is not necessarily the case and wasn't for this group. So instead of hammering to change their decision, I suggested that we continue to talk about how in the future we could collaborate to build solutions together. They were willing, now I'm not so optimistic. I'm evaluating whether it is an important enough relationship and an important enough issue to pursue. A connection: this is often my default, not trying to persuade but looking for alternative solutions. I'm questioning whether this is avoidance. Nice to cut through the fluff Barb.