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Book Summary – Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work and in Life One Conversation at a Time

Your levels of happiness and success are directly affected by the quality of your professional and personal conversations. What we talk about, how we talk, and who we involve, jointly decide what happens and what doesn’t happen. In this Fierce Conversations summary, you’ll learn Susan Scott’s 7 principles of fierce conversations, how you can have fierce conversations to authentically address your most challenging problems, and improve outcomes in all aspects of your life.

What are Fierce Conversations?

A fierce conversation is “one in which we come out from behind ourselves into the conversation and make it real.”

Fierce conversations are built on 3 core ideas.

• Successes and failures don’t happen overnight. Our relationships, organizations, and careers are shaped one conversation at a time, until they cross a tipping point to suddenly bloom or collapse. A failed marriage or business comes from the cumulative effect of conversations you’ve had (or avoided) over months or even years.

Conversation = Relationship. Your conversations are your relationships. When you avoid something in a conversation, you limit the possibilities in that relationship. The more you withhold, the more you reduce your emotional capital and the potential scope of your relationships. At an organizational level, this affects whether you can attract and retain great customers and employees, which in turn determines how far it can build a sustainable competitive advantage.

• Your biggest challenges are rarely about other people; they’re almost always about you. That’s because we see others as we are. We don’t hear what others say; we only hear our stories and interpretation of what they say. Likewise, others hear what they think they hear, not necessarily what we intended.

Fierce Conversations summary - What are fierce conversations?

Fierce conversations seek to achieve 4 objectives.

The 4 goals of fierce conversations are to:

  • Investigate reality;
  • Trigger learning;
  • Address our toughest challenges; and
  • Enhance our relationships.

The 7 Principles of Fierce Conversations

There are 7 principles of fierce conversations which help us to move away from misunderstanding, silos, defensiveness, and competition, and to move toward exploration, accountability, inclusion, engagement, alignment, innovation, and collaboration.

Fierce Conversations summary - The 7 Principles
Here’s a quick overview of all 7 principles. Do check out our full 17-page version of the Fierce Conversations summary for more insights and tips for each principle!

Principle 1: Have the Courage to Investigate Reality

Reality is relative, not absolute. There are always multiple truths, as seen from different perspectives. The only way to get a full picture is to incorporate everyone’s views. Learn how to examine your reality, explore shared truths, investigate reality in 4 stages, and use the 7-step “Mineral Rights Model” to go deep and uncover reality.

Principle 2: Stop Hiding and Start Getting Real

We want others’ respect and approval. So, we hold back on things we’re unsure about, or things that make us look bad. This allows issues/doubts to fester and worsen over time.

Choose to be authentic, and start by being radically transparent with yourself. Get clear on who you are, and what you must do to be that person. When you get real with yourself and others, you enjoy greater personal clarity and freedom, as well as more fulfilling relationships and professional accomplishments.

Principle 3: Be Here and Nowhere Else

All human beings have a universal need to be loved, valued, and respected. When we fail to address this need in our conversations, nothing meaningful happens.

You can’t build a deep relationship without understanding the other person. Be fully present, use regular one-to-ones to connect, and use the “decision tree” to give everyone more autonomy and freedom for decision making.

Principle 4: Confront Your Toughest Challenge Now

We tend to avoid difficult issues because they’re scary and uncomfortable. Yet, if you avoid the discomfort now, you will pay a bigger price later when the problems snowball into major crises and failures. Get the pebble out of your shoe now instead of limping around with it.

Learn to give and receive feedback effectively and regularly. If necessary, confront the problem directly using the 3-part approach in the book.

Principle 5: Follow Your Instincts

Sometimes, no amount of research or fact-finding can help you to answer questions like: “Is this right or wrong?” Listen to your inner voice. Chances are, you already know the answer deep inside.

Our gut intuition can provide powerful insights that the conscious mind hasn’t yet grasped. Learn to tune in to your inner compass and intuition. In our complete Fierce Conversations summary, we’ll elaborate on approaches to check your instincts, assess your inner vs outer conversations, and life with integrity by aligning your values and behaviors.

Principle 6: Take Responsibility for Your Emotional Wake

When leaders say or do something—be it a simple word of encouragement or a harsh criticism—they leave an emotional wake that continues to impact people long after the event.

Your impact or legacy as a leader is the sum of the emotional wakes you leave behind. What will your legacy be? How do you want people to remember you when you’re gone? Learn to create positive emotional wakes and minimize negative ones.

Principle 7: Use Silence Purposefully

Many people talk too much. They prattle on about themselves, and spew lots of words without real substance. They are quick to fill any silence for fear of appearing stupid, unconfident, or disinterested.

Just like how you need rests between music notes and punctuation in sentences, you need space between thoughts where insights can emerge. Learn to use silence appropriately to uncover reality, learn, address issues, and build deeper relationships.

Getting More from “Fierce Conversations”

Fierce Conversations are more than just communication skills and techniques. They represents a new philosophy and approach to people. It’s impossible to live up to all 7 principles of fierce conversations all the time. However, you can get good at fierce conversations by applying the ideas above, 1 conversation at a time. If you’re ready to start adopting the principles, do check out our full book summary bundle which includes an infographic, 17-page text summary, and a 26-minute audio summary.
Fierce Conversations summary - Book Summary Bundle

The book comes with many other details, such as case studies with examples of conversations/phrases/tips to help us master fierce conversations. Susan Scott also includes a survey for assessing the extent to which you’re having fierce conversations at home and at work. You can purchase the book here or visit for more details and resource.

If you’d like to improve your communications and people skills, do also check out our free summaries for Just Listen (for specific tips on how to get through to people), Difficult Conversations (to learn specific approaches and insights to handling tough conversations), and Dare to Lead (to interact bravely and authentically with others).

About the Author of Fierce Conversations

Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work and in Life One Conversation at a Time was written by Susan Scott—an author, speaker, as well as a communications and leadership development coach and consultant. She’s the CEO and Founder of Fierce, Inc. Previously, she served as vice president of a search firm Pace Network, and also as a regional manager for a training organization Context Associated.

Fierce Conversations Quotes

“While no single conversation is guaranteed to change the trajectory of a career, a company, a relationship, or a life, any single conversation can.”

“Life is curly. Don’t try to straighten it out.”

“A leader’s job is to get it right for the organization, not to be right.”

“Authenticity is not something you have; it is something you choose.”

“The quality of our lives is largely determined by the quality of the questions we ask ourselves—and the quality of our answers.”

“It is better to fail at your own life than succeed at someone else’s.”

“There is so much more to listen to than words. Listen to the whole person.”

“Fierce conversations often do take time. The problem is, not having them takes longer.”

“We take feedback personally, because it is personal.”

“If you know something must change, then know that it is you who must change it.”

“It’s not our thoughts or feelings that get us into trouble…It’s our attachment to them, our belief that we are right.”

“You must extend to others what you want to receive. It begins with you.”

“We resent being talked to. We’d rather be talked with.”

Click here to download the Fierce Conversations summary & infographic

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