Book Review: Fierce Conversations

I first reviewed this book in January 2003. Over 20 years later, it remains one of my favorites. I use the tools described in the book frequently. In fact, My SBM Mastermind group just started reading the book this month.

I am convinced that the success or failure of small business owners hinges on the relationships they have with key stakeholders, including customers, vendors, employees, investors, and family. The cornerstone of those relationships is the conversations that do or don’t take place between the owner and these individuals. I wish I had a nickel for every conversation I knew I needed to have with an employee or customer and instead avoided, or conversations that happened and failed miserably.

Susan Scott’s book, Fierce Conversations, addresses this very issue. Scott ran think tanks for executives through TEC International (Vistage), a CEO membership organization dedicated to increasing the effectiveness and enhancing the lives of CEOs worldwide. Scott conducted over 12,000 conversations with CEOs over a 14-year period. Fierce Conversations is based on this experience.

What are Fierce Conversations? According to Scott, “A Fierce Conversation is one in which we come out from behind ourselves, into the conversation, and make it real.”

Her book is based on “3 Big Ideas”. First, she tells her readers that “our lives will succeed or fail one conversation at a time. While no single conversation may change a relationship, or a company, or a person; it’s possible that it can”. I can think of conversations over the years that have had a dramatic impact on my relationship with that person in either a positive or negative way.

The second “Big Idea” in Fierce Conversations is “The conversation is the relationship”. This makes a great deal of sense to me as I consider the relationships I have had with customers over time. My best customers were individuals with whom I had ongoing and open conversations. Customers that I lost were ones I did not have timely conversations with or the conversations were not open and honest.

Scott’s third Big Idea is my favorite: “All conversations are with myself and sometimes they involve other people.” We can interpret this statement in a variety of different ways. For me, it relates to the conversations I am having with myself all the time, every minute of the day. Sometimes I choose to share these conversations with others. More often, I keep them to myself. I am having these mental conversations as I am also conversing verbally with someone else. These conversations shape how we see ourselves, those around us, and the world.

My job as an executive coach is often to get my clients to verbalize the critical conversations they are having with themselves so that I can help them better understand the realities of those thoughts, the implications of those ideas, and a process for moving forward with them.

In Fierce Conversations, Susan Scott shares her “7 Principles of Fierce Conversations”. My two favorites are “Take responsibility for your emotional wake” and “Let silence do the heavy lifting”. We tend to forget that everything we say has the potential to cause “emotional wake”. Scott suggests that we need to take responsibility for that occurrence in each conversation that we have. Silence in a conversation seems to be very rare these days yet so very powerful. Instead, we often have two or more people talking at the same time instead of taking a moment to digest what is being said and to carefully consider our own responses.

The backbone of Fierce Conversations is Susan Scott’s prescriptions for having such conversations on a one-to-one basis and in groups. She also provides a model for when you may need to confront an individual relative to their behavior or situation. This model will come in very handy the next time I need to have such a conversation with one of my sons. I am now armed and dangerous!

I continue to highly recommend this book.