Tim Kinane

Fierce Conversations – Book Review


Interesting Items

Fierce Conversations

By: Susan Scott

Readitfor.me Book Review Summary

Fierce Conversations Book

Far too often in business and life things are left unsaid.

We tell ourselves that we do it to preserve the peace in our relationships. But in reality, we are afraid of what might happen when we have those fierce conversations.

The predictable end result of those undiscussibless is the deterioration of the most relationships in our lives.

In Fierce Conversations, Susan Scott gives us 7 principles and 3 tools that we can use to get back into action, and finally have some real talk in the most important areas of our lives.

What Is a “Fierce” Conversation?

Before we get into the principles and tools, let’s define what a fierce conversation actually is.

Scott tells us that a fierce conversation is one in which we come out from behind ourselves into the conversation and make it real. It’s about moral courage, making real requests, and taking action.

There are 4 purposes to having one – to (1) interrogate reality, (2) provoke learning, (3) tackle tough challenges, and (4) enrich relationships.

With that definition and goals in mind, let’s get started.

Principle #1: Master the Courage to Interrogate Reality

There’s no way around it – having fierce conversations takes courage.

But here’s the reality – most people want to hear the truth, even if they don’t like what they hear. We respond deeply to people who level with us.

Know that when you bring up an issue that everybody else has been thinking about but sweeping under the rug, most people will be relieved that somebody is finally dealing with it.

Question to consider: what reality at home or work most needs interrogating?

Principle 2: Come Out from Behind Yourself into the Conversation and Make It Real

As Scott points out, you cannot be the person you want to be, or have the life you want, unless your actions represent an authentic expression of who you really are.

“Being authentic” isn’t a personality trait, it’s a choice. And until you choose to show yourself to the people in your life, you will never have the conversations you want or need in order to get there.

Here’s a question to ask yourself to determine whether or not you are being authentic in your relationships:

Are you sharing your dark days with the people who are closest to you? We all have them.

Question to consider: Where and with who am I failing to show up authentically?

Principle 3: Be Here, Prepared to Be Nowhere Else

There is a basic human need for people to be known.

Joseph Pine articulates this perfectly in his book The Experience Economy:

The experience of being understood, versus interpreted, is so compelling, you can charge admission.

Knowing this, our goal in any conversation needs to be to help the other person feel understood and known.

Even better, you should set time aside specifically for that goal to be met. Not as an add-on to your performance or project review, but with the sole purpose of talking the other person about whatever they deem the most important.

You’ll do that by using a tool called Mineral Rights, which we’ll cover in the tools section of the summary.

Question to consider: Who would benefit from my undivided attention?

Principle 4: Tackle Your Toughest Challenge Today

One of the greatest gifts that fierce conversations will give you is the ability to tackle your toughest challenges. No longer will you punt them down the road to deal with later, when you “have more time.”

There’s a saying that a problem named is a problem solved.

So before you’ll be able to get any use out of the tools we’ll cover in the tools section, you need to have the ability to identify the issues that need to be resolved with them.

If you need to confront someone’s behavior, do not begin by asking that person how things are going or by complimenting him or her.

As Scott says, don’t surround your message with pillows. Come straight at the issue and get right to the point.

We’ll cover exactly how to do this in the tools section.

Question to consider: What conversation am I dodging?

Principle 5: Obey Your Instincts

Scott suggests that the most valuable things any of us can do is to find a way to say the things that can’t be said.

These are the thoughts that go running through our head all day while we are interacting with people.

For instance, your spouse tells you they are thinking one thing, but everything in your being tells you that they are thinking something else.

An easy way to bring this up is to say something like “Would you like to hear something I’m feeling right now?” Then, if they agree, share your thoughts.

It’s an ingenious way to get a real issue on the table without feeling awkward doing it.

Question to consider: What messages have been beckoning me?

Principle 6: Take Responsibility for Your Emotional Wake

As a leader, there are no trivial comments.

There are most certainly things you’ve said in the past that have had a devastating impact on someone who was looking for your approval without you even knowing it.

Sometimes even innocent questions like “how’s that project going” can send your team members scurrying off, reprioritizing work schedules, and starting fires without you knowing it.

The principle here is to take 100% responsibility for the impact your words have on other people, and consider your words thoughtfully before you speak.

Question to consider: To whom do I need to apologize? Who deserves my praise?

Principle 7: Let Silence Do the Heavy Lifting

Scott jokes that CEOs are the most likely people to die with their mouth open.

Leaders are often taught to communicate until their people are sick of hearing the message. And then, communicate more.

But as Scott points out, the best leaders talk with people, not at them. Communication is not just about talking, it’s about listening too.

The best way to get another person to start talking is be silent. Most people are very uncomfortable with silence, and so will speak in order to break it.

Question to consider: What beneficial results might occur if I said less, listened more, and provided silence in which to think about what has (and has not) been said?

The Tools

Now that we’ve covered the principles, it’s time to move on to the tools you can use to put them into action.

Tool #1: Mineral Rights

One of the greatest gifts we can give to the people in our lives – at home and at work – is the purity of our attention.

Scott calls this tool Mineral Rights, which is a metaphor for drilling deep below the surface.

When you first bring this up, you and the person you want to meet with might feel awkward. To help ease the tension, here’s a script you can use to set up the meeting.

Rewrite it in your own words if that makes you feel more comfortable.

“When we meet tomorrow, I want to explore with you whatever you feel most deserves our attention, so I will begin our conversation by asking, “What is the most important thing you and I should be talking about?” I will rely on you to tell me. If the thought of bringing up an issue makes you anxious, that’s a signal you need to bring it up. I am not going to preempt your agenda with my own. If I need to talk with you about something else, I’ll tag it onto the end or plan another conversation with you.”

To get greater clarity on the things that are on the mind of the people who are most important to you (you can do this with yourself, too), ask your partner to take the following steps.

Step 1: Have them identify their most pressing issue.

Step 2: Ask them to clarify the issue. What’s going on? How long has it been an issue?

Step 3: Ask them to determine the current impact. How is it impacting them? What results are being produced (or not) because of it? How is it impacting others? What emotions are they feeling about the issue?

Step 4: Ask them to determine the future implications. If nothing changes, what might happen? What’s at stake here for them? For others? When they consider those possibilities, what emotions come up?

Step 5: Have them examine their personal contribution to this issue.

Step 6: Have them describe the ideal outcome. What difference will having the issue resolved make? What results will they enjoy? What are their emotions when they imagine the ideal outcome?

Step 7: Have them commit to action. What is the most potent step they could take to move this issue toward resolution? What’s getting in their way from doing it? When will they take the first step?

Because having a conversation this deep is new for most people, there are some common mistakes that might show up. Try to avoid them.

Doing most of the talking. Don’t do that.

Taking the problem away from someone. Some people are very skilled at handing back problems. Don’t let that happen.

Not inquiring about feelings. If you don’t check in with their emotions, nothing much will change. People make decisions to change emotionally, not rationally.

Delivering unclear messages, unclear coaching, and unclear instructions. Your goal should be to deliver no coaching or messages because you are trying to get them to solve the problem for themselves. But if you absolutely must, do it clearly and succinctly.

Canceling the meeting. Don’t do it.

Allowing interruptions. Turn off everything that might distract you from the conversation. Close your door, put away your phone, and shut down your computer. Whatever you need to do.

Running out of time. Every Mineral Rights conversation concludes with clarity about the next most important step. If that next step needs to be another conversation, schedule it.

Assuming your one-to-ones are effective.

Tool #2: Preparing an Issue For Discussion

Sometimes there are issues that you’ll want to resolve as a group, or where you need the input of the group to resolve it.

Preparing for these types of meetings in the following way allows you to accurately and clearly state the issue, and makes good use of everybody’s time.

Even better, put this into a document that you can distribute before the meeting so people can come prepared.

Step 1: State the issue.

Get to the heart of the problem in no more than one or two sentences. Is it a concern, challenge, opportunity or recurring problem that is becoming more troublesome?

Step 2: Communicate the significance

You job here is to determine what’s at stake. Is it a gain/loss in revenue? Gaining/losing a new customer? Gaining/losing an employee?

Step 3: Communicate your ideal outcome

What specific results do you want?

Step 4: Give relevant background information

Using bullet points, give the information that you feel will be helpful for the group considering the resolution of the issue. How, when and why the issue began is a good place to start.

Step 5: Tell them what you have done up to this point…

Tell them what you’ve done so far, and what options you are considering.

Step 6: Tell them what help you are looking for

Tell them the result you are looking for. For instance, are you looking for alternative solutions because you don’t like the ones you’ve come up with? Or are you hoping they’ll give you feedback on what you plan on doing?

Tool #3: The Confrontation Model

Finally, we end with the confrontation tool, which will allow you to confront tough issues with courage, compassion, and skill.

The best part about this tool is that you’ll find that you are finally having these conversations because you have a strategy for them.

Part I : The Opening Statement

The first sixty seconds are crucial to a confrontational conversation. That’s why it’s critical that you script it beforehand, and practice saying it out loud.

Here’s what you should include:

Name the issue. If there is more than one, ask yourself what’s at the core of all of them.

Select a specific example that illustrates the behavior or situation you want to change. Be specific and succinct. If you don’t do this, the conversation will have no teeth.

Describe your emotions about this issue. Telling the other person how you are feeling creates intimacy and is disarming.

Clarify what is at stake. It’s critical that the other person understands why this issue is important. Scott suggests that we use the words “at stake”, and that we speak calmly and quietly – even if we are angry.

Identify your contribution to this problem. You may realize, for instance, that your contribution to the problem is not communicating clear expectations from the outset of the relationship or project.

Indicate your wish to resolve the issue. You are not firing or breaking up with anybody – it’s important that they hear you say that.

Invite your partner to respond. You want to be clear that you want to understand the issue from their point of view. This is your invitation for them to join the conversation.

Part II: Interaction:

This is a conversation, so the next step is to get a clear understanding of their side of the story.

  1. Inquire into your partner’s views. When it’s appropriate, paraphrase their words so you are clear on what they are trying to communicate. Make sure your partner knows that you fully understand and acknowledge his or her position and interests.

Part III: Resolution

Finally, the goal of these conversations is to come to a resolution.

Where are we now? Ask whether there is anything that has been left unsaid, and cover what is needed for resolution.

Make a new agreement and determine how you will hold each other responsible for keeping it.


Bad communication leads to misunderstanding, confusion, lost time, talent and profits.

Communication is one of life’s most important skills- better communication make for a better life.

Tim Kinane

Call 772-210-4499  or email to set up a time to talk about tools and strategies that will lead to better results.

Please share this with a friend/colleague


Comments are closed.