Summary and Review of Susan Scott’s Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work & in Life, One Conversation at a Time

This summary and review of the book, Fierce Conversations. was prepared by Brittany Shockley while a Human Resource Management student in the College of Business at Southeastern Louisiana University.

Cover via Amazon

Executive Summary

When people see the word “fierce”, they may think menacing, cruel, barbarous, or threatening.  As it says on the book’s cover, “fierce” means robust, intense, strong, powerful, passionate, eager, unbridled, uncurbed, and untamed.  In its simplest form, a” fierce conversation” is one in which we come out from behind ourselves into the conversation and make it real.

            If you have ever felt the need to have an important conversation, but you couldn’t bring yourself to having it, then this is the book for you.  Susan Scott details the exact methods to bring us to having those conversations that we know will change our life and other people’s life.  It is important to overcome this optical because a conversation is not about the relationship, it is the relationship.

            Fierce Conversation will get you having the most important conservation you can have with someone, right now.  If you want someone or something to change, you are the one responsible for initiating the change.  If something is bothering you, you need to be the one who does something about it. Whether through fear of hurting a person, receiving retaliation, or having someone point out our own mistakes, we delay having the conversation we need to have.  A large part of the problem comes down to how we present ourselves to others, in our conversations, and when we are by ourselves.  All conversations are with yourself, and some are with others.

            Fierce conversations can be used with employees, customers, colleagues, family members, and friends; not just in business.  You will find Fierce Conversations extremely helpful if you have difficultly expressing yourself, talking with others who have trouble expressing themselves, dealing with passive-aggressive people, or resolving an ignored issue that people know exists. Susan Scott gives you a series of simple and practical exercises to do at the end of each chapter to help you begin using the chapter’s communication skills.  She provides insightful scenarios of her experience with clients using the communication models and the powerful change that has taken place as a result.

            The purpose of the book is to achieve four outcomes: interrogate reality, provoke learning, tackle tough challenges, and enrich relationships.  These are achieved through the following 7 principles of fierce conversations:

Principle 1: Master the Courage to Interrogate Reality

Principle 2: Come Out from Behind Yourself  into the Conversation and Make It Real

Principle 3: Be Here, Prepared to Be Nowhere Else

Principle 4: Tackle Your Toughest Challenge Today

Principle 5: Obey Your Instincts

Principle 6: Take Responsibility for Your Emotional Wake

Principle 7: Let Silence Do the Heavy Lifting

The Ten Things Managers Need to Know from Fierce Conversations

1.            Fierce is an attitude, a way of conducting business, a way of leading, and a way of life.

2.            Avoid blame by modifying your language.  Replace the word but with and.

3.            A conversation is not about the relationship, it is the relationship.

4.            Whoever said talk is cheap was mistaken.  Unreal conversations are incredibly expensive for organizations and for individual.

5.            Talk with people, not at them.

6.            Use silence to slow down a conversation so that you can discover what the conversation really wants to be about.  Allow silence to teach you how to feel.

7.            Act on your instincts rather than passing them over for fear that you could be wrong or that you might offend someone.

8.            During each conversation, listen for more than content. Listen for emotions and intent as well.

9.            Burnout occurs because we have been trying to solve the same problem over and over.

10.            The problem named is the problem solved.


Full Summary of Fierce Conversations

Introduction: The Idea of Fierce

When people see the word “fierce”, they may think menacing, cruel, barbarous, or threatening.  As it says on the book’s cover, “fierce” means robust, intense, strong, powerful, passionate, eager, unbridled, uncurbed, and untamed.  In its simplest form, a” fierce conversation” is one in which we come out from behind ourselves into the conversation and make it real.   Susan Scott, author of the book, explains the exact methods to bring us to having conversations that we know will change our life and other people’s life.  Each person must discard the notion that we respond differently depending on whom we’re with and that our work and home conversations are quite different.  Susan used the example when you squeeze an orange, what comes out of it?  Orange juice comes out of it. Why, because that’s what’s inside it.  The orange doesn’t care whether it’s on a boardroom table or beside the kitchen sink.  It doesn’t leak orange juice at home and tomato juice at work.

Principle 1: Master the courage to interrogate reality

No plan survives its collision with reality, and reality has a habit of shifting, at work and at home.  Markets and economies change by requiring shifts in strategy. People change and forget to tell each other, such as their colleagues, customers, spouses, and friends.  We are all changing all the time.   Not only do we neglect to share this with others, we are skilled at making it even to ourselves.

Ground truth refers to what’s actually happening on the ground verses the official tactics.  What is ground truth in your organization?  Every day companies falter and fail because the difference between ground truth and the “official truth” is significant.  The official truth is available for general circulation and is viewed by most team members as propaganda.  Ground truth is discussed around the lunch table, coke machine, in the bathrooms, and in the parking lot, but it is seldom offered for public consumption and rarely shows up when you need it most—when the entire team is assembled to discuss how to introduce a new product.  You have to get the ground truth before you can turn anything around.  Stop for a moment and have a quite conversation with yourself.  Ask yourself; are their differences between official truths and ground truths in your workplace, in your personal relationships, and in your life?

A value is tightly held belief upon which a person or organization acts by choice.  It is an enduring belief that one way of behaving is personally, professionally, spiritually, or socially preferable to an opposing way of behaving. Ask yourself, “What values do I stand for, and are there gaps between these values and how I actually behave?” Integrity requires alignment of our values, the core beliefs and behaviors that we have claimed as important to us, and our actions.  Most of us don’t go around consciously violating our values, nor do we spend our days obsessively checking: “Okay, am I in or out of integrity?” If your behavior contradicts your values, your body knows, and you pay a price at a cellular level. Conduct an integrity scan.  In a personal integrity scan you must first clarify you core values. Then ask yourself, “Is my behavior out of alignment with my values in the workplace, in my personal relationship, and in my life? Is there integrity outages? If so, where and what are they?” In a corporate integrity scan you must first review your company’s vision or mission statement. Does the vision or mission statement include clearly stated values and is it compelling.  The best kind of vision statement is written during a four-hour fierce conversation with as many employees as possible.  It should answer four important questions: why are we here, what is our ideal relationship with one another, what is our ideal relationship with our customers, and what contributions do we wish to make to the global community.

Principle 2: Come out from behind yourself into the conversation and make it real

            While many fear “real” it is the unreal conversation that should scare us to death.  Unreal conversations are expensive, for the individual and the organization. No one has to change, but everyone has to have the conversation.  When the conversation is real, the change occurs before the conversation is over. You will accomplish your goals in large part by making every conversation you have as real as possible.

            You are an original, an utterly unique human being. You cannot have the life you want, make the decisions you want, or be the leader you are capable of being until your action represent an authentic expression of who you really are, or who you wish to become.  You must deliberately, purposely come out from behind yourself into the conversation and make it real, at least your part of it. Authenticity is not something you have; it is something you choose.

            There are four assignments in this principle that will helps you to show up to yourself, as a boldly person. The assignments will require you to be daring, but let’s face it; you have tried prudent planning long enough.  It’s time to show up in 3-D, Technicolor, wide- screen, Dolby surround sound, to yourself.  First, you will do a gut check on how you feel about your life today. Next, you’ll describe key aspects of the future you desire. Third, you’ll identify the conversations you need to have with others. Finally, before you have conversations you to have with anyone else; you’ll have one with yourself about an issue that is troubling you.  Assignment 1, “How are you spending your days, your life?” Write down how you feel about yourself, your life, and your work. Assignment 2, write a personal stump speech.  For your stump speech, answer the fallowing four questions: Where am I going? Why am I going there? Who is going with me? How will I get there? If you are leader you will write a corporate stump speech. Take a broad perspective.  A stump speech helps to pull back from your life and look at it as if you’re the screenwriter, director, producer, and star. In Assignment 3 you’re ready to list the fierce conversations you need to have with others. It may be the conversations you’ve been avoiding for months or years.  Write down the name of each person and a sentence or two about topic for the conversation.  Assignment 4 consists of having a Mineral Rights conversation with yourself.  There are seven steps in Mineral Rights: Step 1: Identify your most pressing issue; Step 2: Clarify the issue; Step 3: Determine the current impact; Step 4: Determine the future implications; Step 5: Examine your personal contribution to this issue; Step 6: Describe the ideal outcome; and Step 7: Commit to action.

Principle 3: Be here, prepared to be nowhere else

             Our work, our relationships, and our lives succeed or fail one conversation at a time.  While no single conversation is guaranteed to transform a company, a relationship, or a life, any single conversation can. Speak and listen as if this is the most important conversation you will ever have with this person.  It could be. Participate as if it matters, it does.

            There is a profound difference between having a title, a job description, or a marriage license and being someone to whom people commit at the deepest level. If we wish to accomplish great things in our organization and in lives, then we must come to terms with a basic human need. We must recognize that humans share a universal longing to be known and, being known, to be loved.

This chapter will have you ready to have a fierce conversation with someone else, a conversation that will be significantly differentiated from other you have had.  It will show the important issue by asking questions and listening carefully to your partner’s response.  Anyone to who you have this conversation will go away from it having enjoyed your complete attention and feeling known by you—a rare wonderful thing.

             Decision tree is covered in chapter thee. Decision tree is a marvelously useful method of delegation and professional development. The decision tree has four categories: leaf decisions, branch decisions, trunk decisions, and root decisions. Leaf decision; make the decision, act on it, but do not report the action you took.  Branch decision; Make the decision, act on it, report the action you took daily, weekly, or monthly. Trunk decision; make the decision, report your decision before you take action. Root decision; make the decision jointly, with input from many people.  These are the decisions that if poorly made and implemented, could cause major harm to the organization. The analogy of root, trunk, branch, and leaf decisions indicates the degree of potential harm or good to the organization as action is taken at each level. A trunk decision isn’t necessary more important than a leaf decision. Poor decisions at any level can hurt an organization but if you unwittingly yank a leaf off a tree, the tree will not die. A leaf decision will not kill the tree if it is poorly made and executed.  A wrong action at the root level can cause tremendous damage.

Principle 4: Tackle your toughest challenge today

            Burnout doesn’t occur because we’re solving problems; it occurs because we’ve been trying to solve the same problem over and over. The problem named is the problem solved. Identify and then confront the real obstacles in your path. Stay current with the people important to your success and happiness.

            The first thing is presenting the issue. The issue is: be concise and get to the heart of the problem. Is it a concern, challenge, opportunity, or recurring problem that becoming more troublesome? It is significant because: (What’s at stake? How does this affect dollars, income, people, products, services, customers, family, timing, the future, or other relevant factors? What is the future impact if the issue is not resolved?) My ideal outcome is: (What specific results do I want?) Relevant background information: Summarize bulleted points. (How, when, why, and where did the issue start? Who are the players? Which forces are at work? What is the issue’s current status?) What I have done up to this point: (What have I done so far? What options am I considering?  The help I want from the group is: (What result do I want from the group? Whenever a member of a team has an issue on which he or she would like input, preparing the issue presentation before the meeting helps to prevent incoherent or incomplete explanations of the problem. 

            Once the issue is on the table; what is the role of the team? Most people immediately say “I have a solution”.  We dive into answers before our companion has finished describing the issue.  Each of us may have a solution, but our solution is only one solution.

Principle 5 Obey your instincts

            Don’t just trust your instincts, obey them.  Your radar screen works perfectly.  It’s the operator who is in question. An intelligence agent is sending you messages every day, all day. Tune in and pay attention. Share these thoughts with others. What we label as illusion is the scent of something real coming close.

            Each of us is equipped with exquisite calibration that allows us to sense when there is a storm coming, fixing to start snowing.  There is a point where fact-finding and research accomplishes nothing.  Sometimes we just have to ask ourselves, “Is it right or wrong, yes or no, right or left?” We usually know the answer.  A businessperson takes a deep breath and commits funds to a vision.  Lovers let go of the past and commit to the present, or recognize that they are fundamentally wrong for each other and say good-bye.  Our radar works perfectly. It is the operator who is in question.

            Obeying your instincts requires that you listen to your own internal voice, acknowledge you internal reference point, rather than rush to embrace the myriad reference and voices of others.  Most of allow ourselves to be influenced or persuaded that the voice within us is mistaken, flawed, at best a distraction.

In this chapter you are encouraged to pay attention to the connections you are making in your mind between what has been suggested in the book and your own life. You are asked to go beyond the words and pay attention to what you’re thinking and feeling as you read the book.  Practice becoming intuitively aware of the thoughts and feelings of the most important people in your life.  She will teach you how to employ this phenomenon called instinct.  Obey your instincts while inviting other with differing views to challenge your thinking.  Examine more than surface evidence. Resist automatically accepting what you see at face value.

Principle 6: Take responsibility for your emotional wake

            For a leader, there is no trivial comment.  Something you don’t remember saying may have had a devastating impact on someone who looked to you for guidance and approval. The conversation is not about the relationship; the conversation is the relationship. Learning to deliver the message without the load allows you to speak with clarity, conviction, and compassion.

            Everything each of says leaves an emotional wake, whether it is a positive emotional wake of a negative emotional wake.  An emotional wake is what you remember or feel after someone is gone.  It is the aftermath, aftertaste, or afterglow.  Something you might not even remember saying may have had a devastating impact on someone looking to you for guidance and approval.  Something you said years ago may have encouraged and inspired someone who is grateful to you this day.

If you are a leader, taking responsibility for your emotional wake requires that you have a stump speech.  The speech must be prepared to give anytime, anywhere, to anyone who asks or who looks the least bit confused.  A stump speech must be powerful, clear, and brief.  Share stump speeches with your teams and with your customer repeatedly, not just to convey a clear and compelling story but to also leave a positive emotional wake.  Your emotional wake determines the story that is told about each of us in the organization.  It is the story that is told when we are not in room.  It is also the story told about us after we are gone.  A negative emotional wake is expensive. Individuals, teams, customers, and family members pay a price. 

Principle 7: Let silence do the heavy lifting.

            When there is simply a whole lot of talking going on, conversations can be so empty of meaning they crackle. Memorable conversations include breathing space. Slow down the conversation, so that insight can occur in the space between words and you can discover what the conversation really wants and needs to be about.

            For fear of being thought clueless, have you ever dived into a conversation, throwing out opinions, arguing your point, defending your ideas throughout a debate, only to learn later, once you stopped to catch your breath, that there was another, wiser road you could have taken?  It is understandable that emerging leaders believe they need to be fast on their conversational feet.  The belief is that leaders always have answers at the ready, it is not okay to just sit there, and a leader must say something. 

Fierce conversation requires silence.  The more emotionally loaded the subject, the more silence is required. Here are some signs that indicate silence is needed: interrupting by talking over someone; formulating your own response while someone is talking; responding quickly with little or no thought; attempting to be clever, competent, impressive, charming;  jumping in with advice before an issue has been clarified; and talking in circles, nothing new emerging.

Embracing the Principles

            You effect change by engaging in robust conversations with ourselves, our colleagues, our customers, our family, and the world. Whether you are governing a country, running an organization, or participating in a committed personal relationship, your ability to effect change will increase as you become more responsive to your world and to the individuals who are central to your happiness and success.  Fierce conversations’ mission is: Change the world, one conversation at a time.

Personal Insights

Why I think:

·      The author is one of the most brilliant people around…or is full of $%&#, because:

The author Susan Scott is one of the most brilliant people around.  In the book, she broke down in detail every type of conversation you can have.  She looked at both sides of the conversation.  She talks about if you have difficultly expressing yourself, talking with others who have trouble expressing themselves, dealing with passive-aggressive people, or resolving an ignored issue that people know exists.  She explained how important it is to have a conversation and how it can cost you in the future not having the conversation. She explained in detail how to handle certain conversation and what kind of questions to ask.

·      If I were the author of the book, I would have done this one thing differently:

1.            Shorten principle one or change articles around.  It did not catch my interest.

·      Reading this book made me think differently about the topic in these ways:

1.            When going into a conversation, whether at home or at work, whether for five minutes or for an hour, give your partner the purity of your attention.

2.            Go into a conversation with a beginner’s mind.  Bring nothing but yourself.           

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

·      I’ll apply what I’ve learned in this book in my career by:

1.            To look for the ground truth in an organization, and not just the official truth.

2.            Regularly interrogate reality in your workplace and in your personal life.

3.            To deliver the message without the load, clarify your intent; aim for the chopping block.

·      Here is a sampling of what others have said about the book and its author:

 “While success is often measured by an accumulation of titles, acquisitions, and the financial bottom line, little or no attention is paid to the power of each conversation to move us towards or away from our stated business and life goals. No longer. Susan Scott set out to help us change our lives–one conversation at a time.”

— Ken Blanchard, co-author of The One-Minute Manager

“Susan Scott has delivered a wealth of uncommon common sense in Fierce Conversations. Her warmth and skill as coach and counselor provide the healthy nudges we all need from time to time to jump in, get engaged, and manage ourselves and the world around us more directly positively and productively. It’s a reminder that ‘the way out is through,’ and she provides great techniques for navigating the passage.”

— David Allen, author of Getting Things Done

“I was captivated by this magnificent book right from the start. Fierce Conversations insightfully captures and clearly interrogates the heart of ‘real’ conversation. Spending time with Susan Scott’s principles has the potential to make a significant difference in our work, our relationships, and in our understanding of ourselves.”

— Richard Carr, President & CEO, Vistage International, Inc.



Allen, D., Blanchard, K., & Carr, R. (2009). Fierce  [Review of the book Fierce

conversations: Achieving success at work & in life, One conversation].

Fierce Conversation. Retrieved from


Contact Info: To contact the author of this “Summary and Review of Fierce Conversations,” please email

David C. Wyld ( is the Robert Maurin Professor of Management at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, Louisiana. He is a management consultant, researcher/writer, and executive educator. His blog, Wyld About Business, can be viewed at

Cover via Amazon


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