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MCLEOD: Have a 'fierce' conversation or get ready to fail

Can a single conversation ruin your business? Or end your marriage?

Author and leadership expert Susan Scott says, "While no single conversation is guaranteed to change the trajectory of a career, a company, a relationship or a life -- any conversation can."

Scott, the author of "Fierce Conversations," writes, "Our lives succeed or fail gradually, then suddenly, one conversation at a time."

Which is kind of a scary thought given that most of us don't spend much time thinking about, or planning, our daily conversations.

Yet as Scott points out, "What gets talked about in an organization -- and what doesn't get talked about -- determines what will happen and what won't happen."

It's the same way with relationships. What you do or don't talk about determines how successful you'll be. Scott goes so far as to say, "The conversation is the relationship."

Introverts and avoiders may disagree. But Scott, who has worked with hundreds of organizations and thousand of leaders, says, "Millions of people are withholding what they think and feel from someone at work and at home. There are consequences. Gradually, gradually the relationship or the enterprise suffers, until it fails."

She goes on, "People say they are honest. But they withhold so much of what they are thinking and feeling, and they don't understand how costly it is. You may be frightened of the real conversation, but the unreal conversation is the one we should be frightened of."

If you've ever been part of an organization or family where people refuse to discuss reality, you've probably seen just how damaging it can be. Nobody addresses the real issues, so when the marriage or company collapses, it seems like it's happening overnight. But in reality, it had been floundering all along; people were just too afraid to talk about it.

People often shy away from challenging conversations because the idea of speaking the truth in a "Fierce" conversation can feel downright terrifying. Yet as Scott succinctly points out, "If a problem exists, it exists whether you cop to it or not."

A "Fierce" conversation, she says, is about coming out from behind yourself and making it real. "When you think of a 'fierce' conversation," she writes, "think passion, integrity, authenticity, collaboration. Think cultural transformation. Think of leadership."

When my husband read "Fierce Conversations" (and by the way, we bought a copy for every single person on our team as should every savvy manager), it recast his 23 years of corporate ladder climbing. He says, "I spent a lot of time telling people what they wanted to hear, focused more on survival and getting ahead than being honest and genuine."

A natural introvert and self-admitted conflict avoider, he says people don't speak up because "we're afraid that we might be wrong or ridiculed or laughed at or dismissed."

Calling out the truth may feel risky. But Scott, who spent 13 years running executive think tanks, says, "The person who can most accurately describe reality without laying blame will emerge as the leader."

Her organization, Fierce Inc. (www.fierceinc.com), conducts training and workshops around the world, and her newest book "Fierce Leadership" is subtitled, "A bold alternative to the worst 'best' practices of business today."

She says, "I hope that people will recognize the connection between conversation and their success and happiness and that they will sit beside someone they care about and begin."

So, is there anyone you need to have a conversation with?

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