Fierce. A word that conjures up images of snarling tigers, savage warriors and scowling, angry faces. Now imagine adding ‘conversations’ to this picture and ask yourself: how could having a ‘fierce conversation’ possibly be a good thing?
Back in 2015, I was working as a departmental manager for a large organisation that had decided to invest in leadership training for its senior staff. My colleagues and I were ‘invited’ to attend a 3-hour course on the concept of ‘fierce conversations’. Baffled and sceptical, and feeling cross about being dragged away from the one million urgent items on my to-do list, I did as I was told and went along. And unexpectedly, I experienced what I now know to be a pivotal point in my relationship with others and – even more importantly – myself.
It turns out that, as it says on the front cover of my copy of Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work & in Life, One Conversation at a Time by Susan Scott (2011, Berkley Publishing Group), ‘fierce’ means being robust, powerful, authentic, eager and engaging. It is most definitely not about being angry, out-of-control or aggressive. In seven chapters, Ms Scott, a corporate leadership coach and passionate ‘fierce’ advocate, unpacks the concept. Each chapter focuses on a different aspect of having a fierce conversation, whether with ourselves or others: understanding the current reality from everyone’s perspective; being authentic; being present and engaged; tackling tough issues; obeying our instincts; learning to deliver a message with clarity, conviction and compassion; and the power of silence. Along the way, Ms Scott talks us through tools for successful team, coaching, delegation or confrontation conversations, in which no-one dies and instead relationships are enriched and problems solved.
Writing in a forthright, conversational style, each chapter includes relatable, humorous case studies from her own professional and personal experience alongside short assignments for the reader. The anecdote about the senior exec who, when asked to give his opinion in a meeting, gets a look on his face like a cat occupied in the litter box – “sort of far away as if to indicate that he is not really here and neither are you” (p.17) – is surely one we can all share from our own experience. While many of the ideas and exercises, such as identifying your core values, will already be familiar if you are interested in self-help, the real power of this book is that it sets out a roadmap for promoting understanding, achieving clarity and communicating meaningfully in our relationships at home and at work, and, significantly, in the conversations we have with ourselves.
So why was encountering ‘fierce’ a turning point for me? As I sat with 20 of my peers in that windowless board room 8 years ago, hearing the trainer say “all conversations are with myself – sometimes they involve other people” (p.153), I suddenly saw all the issues in my life that I had been ducking for many years. I saw how rarely and reluctantly I was showing up as the real me anywhere. This was the very first step on a path that led to leaving my job, moving country, writing a book, working with a new team… Now, as Operations Director at BTW, a company founded in strong personal relationships and an authentic passion for visual design and innovative digital solutions, practising being ‘fierce’ everyday feels in complete alignment with our professional and personal goals as a team. The conversation is the relationship (p.6).