Conversations are central to how our career and relationships pan out. So how can you begin to achieve success in work and life, one conversation at a time? Here Susan Scott, who specialises in transforming the way organisations communicate, explains why you should come out from behind yourself, make it real – and have what she refers to as fierce conversations…
Most people would agree that conversations are important, that, if some conversations ‘fail’, it’s a big fail! But why ‘fierce’? Doesn’t that suggest menacing, cruel, threatening, no fun at all? In Roget’s Thesaurus, however, the synonyms attached to the word are robust, intense, strong, powerful, passionate, eager and so on.
In its simplest form, a fierce conversation is one in which you come out from behind yourself into the conversation and make it real – at least your part of it. After all, you are an original, an utterly unique human being, and you cannot have the life you want or make the decisions you want until your actions represent an authentic expression of who you really are, or who you wish to become. It can be surprisingly difficult but most people want to share ‘journeys’ of this kind.
Forget about being clever or impressive. When we furnish our past with positive events, perhaps enhancing them, and leaving out the ones we don’t think others would find appealing or attractive, that leaves us as a perfect and, therefore, uninteresting human being to whom no one else who might be imperfect can relate. Forget also about persuading others to your view. Saying something louder doesn’t make it true. What is called for is quiet integrity. Tell the truth.
I determined long ago that to change my persona, omit my mistakes or withhold a controversial view for fear of what others might think was not only dishonest and ineffective but would likely induce a contagious stupor, so I decided to show up authentically and consistently with everyone in my life. Might some people be put off by things I say? Certainly, and that is okay with me. If I tried to please everyone, I would lead a dull life indeed. The key is for you to show up – fully. You may be among people who don’t support you. You may be among people who, loving or unloving, are simply not equipped to support the ambition of engaging in fierce conversations. This is not an unusual experience. The courage to show up is both simple and daunting. Once you show up, people can see you. They can judge and criticise and gossip. Some safety and comfort are lost when an ambition or strongly felt emotion is expressed. Perhaps, if you have become impatient with a false identity you have created for yourself, life is inviting you into much larger worlds than you have imagined. Often people tell me that they will only say what they really want to say if they’re with someone who is safe. In other words, their degree of honesty is totally up to other people. But life isn’t safe, isn’t meant to be safe. It’s meant to be challenging, broadening, frightening even at times. Otherwise we’re not having an adventure.
Safety is overrated. It’s time to show up. Intimacy is required in conversation – at home and in the workplace. What are the questions that need posing? Philosophers, theologians, scientists and great teachers have debated this for ages. What is real? What is honest? What is quality? What has value? We effect change by engaging in robust conversations with ourselves, our colleagues, our customers, our family, the world. Whether you are running a company, managing a team, governing a country, or participating in a committed personal relationship, your ability to effect change will increase as you become more responsive to your world and to the individuals who are central to your happiness and success.
At the heart of this is connection, at a deep level, with those who are important to our success and happiness. It is not enough to be willing or able to speak. The time has come for to actually speak. Be willing to face mutiny everywhere but in yourself. Your time of holding back, of guarding your private thoughts, is over. Your function in life is to make a declarative statement. When we do that we begin to find ourselves speaking in a deeper, richer language.
This excerpt is from Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott, out now.