Fierce Conversations

In “Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work and in Life One Conversation at a Time,” author Susan Scott defines fierce as “robust, intense, strong, powerful, passionate, eager, unbridled.”  

Fierce conversations are meant for both personal and professional situations. They are meant for individuals to be leaders, to speak and connect on a human level. Conversations can be a powerful way for two people to touch one another in a meaningful and powerful way.

Scott argues that we must “come out from behind ourselves and into the conversation, and make it real.”  Too many conversations are careful, filled with half truths, dodges and attempts to circumvent the issue(s).  In Papua New Guinea, they have a term to describe conversations that don’t happen – mokitas.  According to Scott, these missed conversations are extremely costly to an organization and which, if quantified, would easily represent the largest loss on the P&L sheet.

 The essence of the book, however, is this:

Our careers, our companies, our personal relationships, and our very lives succeed or fail, gradually then suddenly – one conversation at a time. The conversation is the relationship, and – while no single conversation is guaranteed to change the trajectory of a career, a company, a relationship, or a life – any single conversation can.

Below are the 7 Principles that form the foundation for fierce conversations:

  • Principle 1: Master the courage to interrogate reality. Reality is changing all the time.  We change.  The problem arises when we forget to tell others we have changed. 
  • Principle 2: Come out from behind yourself into the conversation and make it real. We often play roles at work and at home, using different masks or personas.  Be authentic in your conversations to effect change.
  • Principle 3: Be here, prepared to be nowhere else. Show up to the conversation.  Speak and listen as if this is the most important conversation you will ever have with this person.
  • Principle 4: Tackle your toughest challenge today. Name the problem.  Burn out isn’t because we have problems to solve, it occurs because we are trying to save the same problem over and over.
  • Principle 5: Obey your instincts. We are always receiving information, consciously and unconsciously.  Learn to listen to that information and trust your ability to act.
  • Principle 6: Take responsibility for your emotional wake. Do you leave an aftermath or afterglow? Learn to deliver your message without the load so you can speak with clarity, conviction, and compassion.
  • Principle 7: Let silence do the heavy lifting. Slow down the conversation. Listen to what is being said and what needs to be said.

Scott challenges the reader to ask themself, “What am I not allowing myself to know?”  What truths am I hiding?  What conversations am I preventing myself from having? Exercises and tips are included to help the reader ask clarifying questions to facilitate mission statements, performance plans and corporate strategy. 

The one principle that struck a chord for me was Principle 3 – be here, prepared to be nowhere else. Scott spends a good deal of time walking us through how to listen and to hear in this chapter – how to “listen beyond words for intent.”  

In my work as a career counselor it was critical that I pay close attention to what clients were struggling to articulate about their work – its joy and its pain.  As a career counselor who specialized in the career psychology of women, I know it is crucial to hear what the woman before me is trying to say.  But more importantly, to let her say it without finishing her sentences or presuming to know what she means. This was hard work and there were times where I just could not be in the moment. But when those moments hit and I was able to just be, to just let the conversation unfold, something powerful would happen. That connection with another human being is profound. 
In my HR career, this type of connection was rare. Yes, there were conversations with employees, managers and leaders. In one of my roles as the HR Manager of a small farm equipment shop I did have some almost “fierce” conversations. But they took time; time the boss did not want his employees taking. Scott asks us to do more, to participate, to reveal and to listen for the “scaffolding on which a story hangs … [where] clarity and character emerge” and this can be very hard in our HR roles. 


Does this sound familiar to you? 

As HR professionals, how can we make deeper connections with employees?  With managers?  How can we apply these fierce principles to our roles?  Are there conversations you are preventing yourself from having?  If you had those conversations, what do you suppose would happen? I invite you to apply one of the principles to a conversation you need to have with an employee and let us know how it worked or did not work, how easy or hard it was, what difference it did or did not make.

Let’s keep the conversation going!

About the Author

Alyson Nyiri

Alyson Nyiri, BA CDP, CHRP is an HR Writer / Researcher living in rural Ontario, Canada. She can be reached at


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