Facilitate fierce conversations!

I just received this email from a client following a two-day board governance and planning session I facilitated: “It is so great to see what we accomplished over that weekend. Even with the many difficult conversations, you helped us realize many things that are critical for us now and in the future, so thank you!”

 Besides making me very happy and grateful, the compliment reminded me of a blog about facilitating fierce conversations that I wrote years ago. I pulled it out and with slight revisions, offer it again.

… robust, intense, strong, powerful, passionate, eager, unbridled…

These are words that Susan Scott in her book Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work & in Life, One Conversation at a Time (A Berkley Book, Penguin Group, New York, New York) uses to describe a fierce conversation. When I first read the book about 10 years ago, I found it resonated with my beliefs about conversations. And, it still does. Fierce conversations are not battles, arguments, or ugly confrontations. They are a way of seeking and working and talking … about the ways that we in our personal lives and in our community and organizations can be the best that we can be. Fierce conversations are a way of making every conversation count.

Susan Scott explains seven principles of fierce conversations of which some are:

  • Acknowledge the “real” or true topic or issue that needs to be discussed. Then talk about it!
  • Be “in the moment”. Scott states that we need to “speak and listen as if this is the most important conversation you will ever have with this person.”
  • Tackle your toughest challenge today.
  • Value silence in conversations.

In the book, Scott describes how a fierce conversation can transform a relationship, a work place, a leader …

Before Fierce: Focus on activities. After Fierce: Focus on results

Before Fierce: Beating around the bush, skirting the issues. After Fierce: Naming and addressing the issues truthfully and directly

Before Fierce: An “us versus them”, “me versus you” culture. After Fierce: High levels of alignment, collaboration and partnership

How do I facilitate fierce conversations?

To start, I think of potentially challenging conversations as fierce, rather than difficult. I prepare for the possibility of client groups entering into fierce conversations by having several techniques in my back pocket. I use the Focussed Conversation (ORID) as the foundation for discussing controversial and polarizing topics. https://www.slideshare.net/StephenBerkeley/the-focused-conversation-method-orid-63521262 

I invite participants to:

  • Fully explain their knowledge about a topic, identify and explore the facts (Objective)
  • Share how they feel; often using prompt questions such as; What worries you? What excites you? What angers you? Etc. (Reflective)
  • Listen to others’ opinions and ideas, state what they think about them, consider the impact and consequences of the opinions and ideas (Interpretive)
  • Mutually work towards a solution, using appropriate decision-making techniques (Decisional)

Here’s another process I use to work through fierce conversations, with suggested activities I have used:

  1. Results: Determine through a consensus method, the results that all wish to achieve (activity: use an affinity clustering method)
  2. Reason: Explain reasoning of each opinion and position (activity: each person gets 1 minute to say what they really need the others to hear)
  3. Diverge: Identify points where reasoning diverges (activity: work in pairs and chart what each other believes and thinks about each point of the topic)
  4. Explore: Explore divergent points to fully understand (activities: switch roles and argue for the other person’s idea; draw a mind map of the opinions and ideas)
  5. Converge: Seek common themes and write them down (activity; draw a mind map or road map showing where opinions and ideas may come together and continue parallel or together towards the desired results)
  6. Resolve: Craft solutions to stay on the same path (activity: use Lego or other objects to design a solution and then write the descriptive words)

I regularly refer to Susan Scott’s book to deepen my ability to participate in and facilitate conversations that are meaningful, powerful, insightful, passionate … fierce. By doing so, I commit to supporting clients to hold fierce conversations and helping them realize many things that are critical for them now and in the future. If you have questions or need a facilitator to help with fierce conversations, please contact me.

Facilitate fierce conversations!
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