It’s Time To Get Fierce!
What does having a fierce conversation mean to you?
Does this sound like a powwow that is intense and simmering with conflict?
Is it a testy tête-à-tête and one word away from fisticuffs?
Perhaps a gusty korero is something you'd rather not have, because you want an easy life?
But wait. If you are a school leader, you are on the front line and that means you'll be having plenty of chinwags that are challenging.
They will also be passionate and potentially volatile.
But how do we deal with having those tough chinwags?
In her book Fierce Conversations, Susan Scott reminds us fierce has a wider meaning than intense. It can also mean robust, strong, powerful, passionate, eager, unbridled, uncurbed, untamed.
She says, "In its simplest form, a fierce conversation is one in which we come out from behind ourselves into the conversation and make it real."
Susan identifies seven principles that serve “as a guide to tackling your toughest challenges and enriching relationships with everyone important to your success and happiness through principles, tools, and assignments designed to direct you through your first fierce conversations with yourself on to the most challenging and important conversations facing you.”
Principle 1: Master the courage to interrogate reality
No plan survives its collision with reality, and reality has a habit of shifting, at work and at home. Markets and economies change, requiring shifts in strategy.
People change and forget to tell each other - colleagues, customers, spouses, friends. We are all changing all the time. Not only do we neglect to share this with others, we are skilled at masking it even to ourselves.
Principle 2: Come out from behind yourself into the conversation and make it real
While many fear “real,” it is the unreal conversation that should scare us to death. Unreal conversations are expensive, for the individual and the organisation. No one has to change, but everyone has to have the conversation.
When the conversation is real, the change occurs before the conversation is over. You will accomplish your goals in large part by making every conversation you have as real as possible.
Principle 3: Be here, prepared to be nowhere else
Our work, our relationships, and our lives succeed or fail one conversation at a time. While no single conversation is guaranteed to transform a company, a relationship, or a life, any single conversation can. Speak and listen as if this is the most important conversation you will ever have with this person. It could be. Participate as if it matters. It does.
Principle 4: Tackle your toughest challenge today
Burnout doesn’t occur because we’re solving problems; it occurs because we’ve been trying to solve the same problem over and over. The problem named is the problem solved. Identify and then confront the real obstacles in your path. Stay current with the people important to your success and happiness. Travel light, agenda-free.
Principle 5: Obey your instincts
Don’t just trust your instincts - obey them. Your radar screen works perfectly. It’s the operator who is in question. An intelligence agent is sending you messages every day, all day. Tune in. Pay attention. Share these thoughts with others. What we label as illusion is the scent of something real coming close.
Principle 6: Take responsibility for your emotional wake
For a leader, there is no trivial comment. Something you don’t remember saying may have had a devastating impact on someone who looked to you for guidance and approval. The conversation is not about the relationship; the conversation is the relationship. Learning to deliver the message without the load allows you to speak with clarity, conviction, and compassion.
Principle 7: Let silence do the heavy lifting
When there is simply a whole lot of talking going on, conversations can be so empty of meaning they crackle. Memorable conversations include breathing space. Slow down the conversation, so that insight can occur in the space between words and you can discover what the conversation really wants and needs to be about.
We all have a genuine hunger for conversations which build our world of meaning but how many of us get to satisfy that hunger?
The way you handle a conversation can make or break a relationship treading carefully is advised.
Every conversation we have needs to be a learning conversation.
As Scott says, "Conversations are the work of a leader and the workhorses of an organisation."
Scott says that conversations are the work of the leader and she identifies four conversational models that become workhorses for the organisation:
- Team Conversations
Engage individuals and teams in frictionless debates that interrogate reality and ignite dialogue around clarifying goals, solving problems, evaluating opportunities and designing strategies, resulting in excellent decisions for the organization, impeccably implemented.
- Coaching Conversations
Engage individuals and teams in conversations which increase clarity, improve understanding and provide impetus for change, resulting in professional development, the advancement of projects and accelerated results.
- Delegation Conversations
Clarify responsibilities and raise the level of personal accountability, ensuring that each employee has a clear path of development, action plans are implemented, deadlines are met, goals are achieved and leaders are free to take on more complex responsibilities.
- Confrontation Conversations
Engage individuals and teams in conversations which successfully resolve attitudinal, performance or
behavioural issues by naming and addressing tough challenges, provoking learning, and enriching relationships.
These conversational contexts are all powerful in their own way but one of the fiercest is the context that promotes confrontation.
These are the situations to train staff as black-belt conversationalists and to nurture their dialogue and responses by setting up deliberately argumentative chats.
These give colleagues safe opportunities to think, edit and argue from more than one point of view and to manage expectations. It also gives you the chance to help them respond to difficult conversations that could be easily avoided and to learn how to defuse tricky situations.
Setting up deliberately argumentative chats enable you to:
- Interrogate reality
- Provoke learning
- Tackle tough issues
- Enrich relationships
- Conduct intelligent debates
- Double-check reality
- Clear up misperceptions
- Focus on issues, not people
- Be direct and candid
It's time to get fierce!
About the author
John is an ex-primary school teacher and Ofsted inspector who has spent the last 20 years working in the education industry as a teacher, writer and editor. John’s specialist area is primary maths but he also loves teaching science and English. John has written a number of educational and children’s books, and contributed over 1,000 articles and features to various educational bodies. John is Eteach’s school leadership and Ofsted advice guru, sharing insights on best practice for motivating and enriching a school team, as well as sharing savvy career steps for headteachers and SLT.