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"A fierce conversation is one in which we come out from behind ourselves into the conversation and make it real." - Susan Scott, Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work & in Life, One Conversation at a Time

No two conversations are ever the same. However, conversations are the method through which we build relationships. In order to master the art of productive and effective conversation, it is essential to know the common types of conversations we all experience in our professional lives. Let's get started with part one of this three-part series on conversation.

If you've been around teenagers or young people in the last five years or so, you've probably heard them refer to someone or something as "fierce." They aren't calling someone ferocious. Rather, they are recognizing someone as extremely confident and who approaches life with passion.

Fierceness isn't reserved for the likes of teen idols. In conversation, all of us can be fierce. In her book, Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success At Work And In Life, One Conversation at a Time, author Susan Scott explores the concept of the "fierce" conversation. Fierce conversations are not arguments, but they are tough discussions that involve clear requests and taking action.

When Is It Time For A Fierce Conversation?

Why are tough conversations typically so painful? Because neither party gets down to brass tacks. Each person dances around the actual problem, or focuses on peripheral problems. Instead, clearly state the most pressing issue so you can deal with it. Let's assume that your department has gotten into hot water over inaccurate sales reports. You've determined that one of your team members, Dave, is at the heart of the issue. He has been struggling for months and his performance is causing the entire department to suffer. You've addressed the situation with him lightly, and discussed his poor performance here and there, but up until now you haven't levelled with him. Before things get worse, it's time for a fierce conversation.

Fierce conversations can be difficult to navigate if you're feeling around blindly. Follow these steps to lead to a healthy and mutually satisfying outcome, using our friend Dave as the example:

Step One: Clarify The Issue

Now that you know the problem, get really specific. The overarching problem may be Dave's performance for the last six months, but drill down to the real issue at hand. Is Dave's poor performance due to his lack of understanding of his job? Is he struggling with the software? Is it due to lack of skill? Fierce conversations are never vague. Don't be afraid of specifics.

Step Two: What's The Impact?

Once you've drilled down to a clear issue, it's time to examine the impact of Dave's problem. Is he preventing the department from hitting its goals? Has he put the company into hot water with auditors? Illustrate to him the ways in which his personal behaviors are impacting those around him.

Step Three: Determine What Will Happen If Nothing Changes

If Dave doesn't take action to correct the situation, what will happen? What are the consequences? If he is in danger of getting demoted or worse -getting fired - be clear. There is no sense in sugarcoating the issue if you want to reach a resolution.

Step Four: Determine Personal Contributions

What, specifically, must Dave do to correct the situation and make it right? Moreover, what can you contribute to help him get there? Did you contribute to the problem by ignoring, inaction, or ignorance? If the answer is more training, see to it that he receives that training and follow up with him on his progress. Everyone must make a contribution in order to achieve a resolution. Be willing to compromise and meet halfway.

Step Five: Illustrate the Ideal Outcome

When all is said and done, what will the resolution look like? Describe the most ideal outcome that will make both parties happy.

Step Six: Make A Commitment to Act

What is the action plan to achieve the ideal outcome? What are the steps to which each person has committed and in what time frame do you agree to get those things completed?

Susan Scott's book tells us that there is something within us that responds deeply to people who level with us. Dave may feel personally hurt or embarrassed that he has been dragging the department down, but only he can fix the issue when he sees the truth. In fact, you may learn that Dave has wanted to ask for help but has simply been too embarrassed to speak up.

What will hurt your team the most in the long run? Letting Dave continue on for three more months, making errors along the way? Or sitting him down to discuss the problem and work out an action plan? He may not like what you have to say. He may disagree. He may even argue. But remember, people want to know the truth, and only by offering it can we ever expect them to resolve the issue.


Larry Hart

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