Before the next conversation…

Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work and in Life One Conversation at a Time Paperback

January 6, 2004
by Susan Scott

Have you ever been in one of those deadly conversations in which a lot of words fly about and yet nothing happens? Or when decisions are made and strategies are crafted, but everyone sitting around the table knows that nothing will actually change because everyone is talking around the real problem?  What a waste of time!

What’s even worse is when the dead-end conversation is one going on inside your own head. We can spend hours and years dancing around an issue, solving symptoms or even just pretending that we’re addressing the right question when in fact we’re skipping what matters most.  When you’re dwelling in the land of the unreal, even a minute is too long to spend.

Fierce Conversations revolves around the “Mineral Rights conversation.” This simple 7-step process can be used to get to the truth of a situation, create understanding about it, tackle the challenges in the situation, and enrich relationships in the process.  The seven steps (with some sample questions) are:

  1. Identify the most pressing issue.
    What issue doe we most need to resolve?
  2. Clarify the issue.
    What is going on?
    How long has it been going on?
  3. Determine the current impact.
    How is this situation impact me and others?
    What do I feel about this impact?
  4. Determine the future implications.
    What’s likely to happen if nothing changes?
    What’s at stake in this situation, for myself and others?
  5. Examine your contribution to this issue.
    How have I contributed to this problem?
  6. Describe the ideal outcome.
    What difference will it make to resolve this problem?
    What results will resolution create, for myself and others?
  7. Commit to action.
    What’s the most potent step I could take to move this issue toward resolution?
    What’s going to attempt to get in my way, and how will I get past it?
    When will I take this step?

The critical tactic to make a Mineral Rights conversation a success is to ask questions and not to comment on the answers until you’ve completed step 7. The reason is simple:  your goal is to interrogate (gently but fiercely — meaning powerfully, robustly, eagerly), to understand, and to assist in finding a solution.  This is your opportunity to listen and to provide uninterrupted attention, not to speak.  If your input is needed, you can provide it later.

And, as the author writes, allow silence to do the heavy lifting. We’re often quick to fill a gap in conversation, whether from desire to show how much we know or to avoid uncomfortable silence.  Don’t do it.  Silence creates the opportunity to reflect on the situation — on the cause rather than the effect — and to appreciate its scope.  Reflection often yields new understanding that leads to action.

Incidentally, from the perspective of business development, silence can be one of the most effective tools you can use. Of course you need to bring information and ideas to the table, but after you speak, allow them to hang long enough for your potential client to have the space to consider what you’ve said.

Imagine having a Mineral Rights conversation with a client, or having a modified version of it with a potential client. Imagine having it with colleagues representing a client with you, with staff, or even with your family.  Take a step today and answer this question:  What’s the most pressing challenge you need to resolve?  If it’s a situation that requires input from others, with whom should you have the conversation?

Fierce Conversations also includes other tools, including an exceptionally useful model for determining decision-making authority, which I previously described on the Life at the Bar Blog.  Please click here to read that post.

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