Fierce Conversations

The methodology behind having difficult discussions.

Would you recommend a book to someone if you hadn’t read it yourself? Fierce Conversations has been recommended to me not once or twice, but more than a dozen times. Every time I have a managerial issue, a family snafu or a relationship wrinkle, a new person says, “Hey, have you read Fierce Conversations?” Well, universe, today’s the day. As I write, the book is on its way to my local library branch.

The crux of it, as I’ve gleaned through issue-processing with fellow business leaders, is how to have difficult conversations by identifying relevant issues in a clear way that acknowledges both the facts and emotions of an issue, asks questions with genuine curiosity and recognizes current and desired outcomes of the issue or behavior at stake. Silence plays a critical part, a tool used to do the heavy lifting of such conversations and allow genuine responses space to arise and be heard.

Folks I know have used the model to address everything from family members’ household hygiene to clients who don’t pay. And they’ve reported such success that I’ve started wondering if I can possibly have a fierce conversation with myself.

Hey, I’m human. Despite what our lack of typos might have you believe, editors are people, too. Recently, I realized that I haven’t delegated as well as I could. Luckily – and unsurprisingly – Fierce Conversations has a model for that, too. Using a tree analogy, every task is deemed a root, trunk, branch or leaf. Root tasks are passed along to a manager with no action; they’re outside a worker’s domain. Trunk tasks are done in collaboration with a higher-up. Branch tasks are done mostly independently by the employee, with regular check-ins, and leaf tasks are completed autonomously by the staff member in question. 

How do you decide? Following the analogy, root tasks are critical for organizational success; leaf tasks are areas where you can afford to learn, grow and make mistakes; and trunk and branch work is somewhere in between mission-critical and lower-stakes learning opportunities.

As we prepare to implement this model, I challenge you to have your own fierce conversation, whether with your workforce or, like me, starting in the mirror.

Do you have your own unread must-reads? Share them with me at robin.donovan@stmediagroup.com – and ask me how I liked Fierce Conversations.

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