Book club: Fierce Conversations

When the teams at Recognition PR, Write Away Communication + Events and Outsource got together for our latest book club, we discussed Susan Scott’s Fierce Conversations.

The key point of the book is that every conversation matters. This was primarily conveyed using anecdotes and examples (our opinions on the effectiveness of this were varied, however the key point was universally appealing).

The book’s thrust can be encapsulated in seven principles, which were outlined at the beginning. These are:

  1. mastering the courage to interrogate reality
  2. coming into the conversation and make it real
  3. being present and remaining focused
  4. tackling your toughest challenge (not putting it off)
  5. obeying your instincts
  6. taking responsibility for your emotional wake
  7. letting silence do the heavy lifting.

The appendix is one of the book’s most useful features. It includes models for having deeper conversations, managing meetings with direct reports or colleagues (not managers), preparing an issue for discussion, and how to conduct a confrontational discussion.

Another useful concept was the explanation of a decision tree, which, while not unique to this author, did strike a chord with many of us. It outlines a clear pathway for team members to take responsibility according to their level of experience, increasing their responsibilities as their experience grows.

The decision tree includes four categories of decisions:

1. leaf decisions – the person should make the decision and act on it with no need to report the action they took

2. branch decisions – the person should make the decision and act on it, then report the action on a regular basis

3. trunk decisions – the person should make the decision and report the decision before taking action

4. root decisions – the person should make the decision jointly with input from many people as these are the decisions that could cause major harm to the organisation.

Unfortunately what we felt was missing from the book was advice on how to have a fierce conversation with people who are in positions of power over you.

The book is mainly focused on conversations in a professional setting although it does include examples of where a better style of conversation can help improve personal relationships.

The book was a good reminder to be completely conscious and present in each communication: an important point in a world where we carry mobiles, email, social media etc. in our pockets and are frequently distracted. By focusing in this way many people would have a more effective exchange of ideas and sentiments. It also advocated boldness and courage when communicating.

An assignment in the book was to try replacing the word ‘but’ with the word ‘and’. For example, in a sentence like “I understand you’re busy but we are on deadline,” using the word ‘but’ signifies that, while you may understand the other person’s perspective, you believe your perspective is more valid or important. Using ‘and’ instead of ‘but’ demonstrates that you acknowledge that there are two competing realities and are committed to finding common ground. It avoids laying blame and changes the tone of the conversation.

I have made this a personal goal and have practised replacing ‘but’ with ‘and’. I have had positive results and will keep working on eliminating ‘but’ in important conversations.


Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott is published by Berkeley Trade. For more information go to

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