How to Get What You Want – One Conversation at a Time

Are your conversations bringing you more success in work? Are you building or eroding your relationships through your conversations?

If you’re like most people, you occasionally have interpersonal difficulties with one ore more people at work. According to Susan Scott, author of Fierce Conversations, interpersonal difficulties are a direct result of our inability to communicate well.

It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.
– Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince

article-conversations“Conversations are the work of a leader and the workhorses of an organization .”
Susan Scott, Fierce Conversations

According to Scott, our conversations are either improving relationships, eroding relationships, or keeping relationships at status quo. Our success at work and in relationships then depends upon our ability to consistently engage in meaningful conversation. While no single conversation is guaranteed to transform a company, a relationship, or a life, any single conversation can.

Three foundational ideas underlying all Fierce Conversations

1) You must accurately name a problem in order to address it. So the first goal of a fierce conversation is to describe what Susan Scott labels the “ground truth.” Ground truth is what’s really happening, rather than what we speculate on what is happening.

2) To get to ground truth, we must interrogate reality – or closely examine all assumptions to determine whether they are indeed valid.

3) To effectively interrogate reality, we must acknowledge that everyone has a unique perspective and that each one’s perspective is valid. Scott reminds us that: “All conversations are with myself and sometimes they include other people.”

Seven Principles of Fierce Conversations

1)   Master the Courage to Interrogate Reality

Too often, folks who are just tired, or who don’t want to risk being criticized and when asked, “What do you think?” they’ll reply with: “I don’t know.” Ask those people the following (be sure to ask this in a friendly way):   “If you did know, what would you think?”

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

When conversation is real, the masks drop and change can occur even before the conversation is over. If you want to accomplish your goals, make every conversation you have as real as possible.

3)   Be Here, Prepared to Be Nowhere Else

Speak and listen as if this is the most important conversation you will ever have with this person. It might be.

4)   Tackle Your Toughest Challenge Today

Burnout occurs when we try to solve the same problem over and over.   The problem identified is the problem solved. If you want change, confront the real obstacles in your path.

5)   Obey Your Instincts

Listen to the still, small voice that’s telling you what’s right.   Pay attention. Share those thoughts with others. Don’t just listen to those thoughts – obey them.

6)   Take Responsibility for Your Emotional Wake

Consider what you leave with a person after a conversation. Is it afterglow or aftermath? For leaders, this is critical.

What a leader says can have a hurtful impact on someone who looked to them for guidance and approval. As poet David Whyte said: “The conversation is not about the relationship; the conversation is the relationship.”

7)   Let Silence Do the Heavy Lifting

When there is a whole lot of talking going on, conversation can be empty of meaning. Good conversations include breathing space. Slow down your conversations, so that insight can occur in the space between words. In the silent spaces, we can discover what the conversation really needs to be about.

The Mineral Rights Conversation

Susan Scott calls the method behind a fierce conversation “Mineral Rights.” The method became known as Mineral Rights after a participant in one of Scott’s workshops made the observation, “If you’re drilling for water, it’s better to drill a one hundred-foot well than 100 one-foot wells.”

So the mineral rights conversation is about taking the conversation to a deeper level. If the question will help you drill deeper, ask it; if not, don’t ask it. The guideline provided in Fierce Conversations:

Step 1: Clarify the issue.
What is going on?
How long as this been going on?
How bad are things?

Step 2: Determine the current impact.
How is this issue currently impacting me?
What results are currently being produced for me by this situation?
How is this issue currently impacting others?
What results are currently being produced for them by this situation?
When I consider the impact on myself and others, what are my emotions?

Step 4: Determine the future implications.
If nothing changes, what’s likely to happen?
What’s at stake for me relative to this issue?
What’s at stake for others?
When I consider these possible outcomes, what are my emotions?

Step 5: Examine our personal contribution to this issue.
What is my contribution to this issue? (How have I contributed to the problem?)

Step 6: Describe the ideal outcome.
When this issue is resolved, what difference will that make?
What results will I enjoy?
When this issue is resolved, what results will others enjoy?
When I imagine this resolution, what are my emotions?

Step 7: Commit to action.
What is the most potent step I could take to move this issue toward resolution?
What’s going to attempt to get in my way, and how will I get past it?
When will I take this step?

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