Monday, February 19, 2007

Fierce Conversations III--Confrontation

Continuing summary/analysis of Susan Scott's Fierce Conversations.

pp. 147-153: Confrontations

According to Scott, fierce confrontational conversations come in three parts:
  1. Opening Statement,
  2. Interaction,
  3. Resolution.
The key, it seems to me, is

1. The Opening Statement.

Scott urges the following structure and plan for creating one's opening statement. The opening statement should take no more than 60 seconds.

  1. Name the issue. Name the behavior that is causing the problem and the area the behavior is impacting. If you have multiple issues, take the time to define the core, the theme, the commonality of all or most of the issues. "Name the central issue [or] the conversation will lack essential focus and you'll both end up lost and frustrated."

  2. Select a specific example that illustrates the behavior or situation you want to change. Remember, the entire opening statement should take no more than 60 seconds, so the example must be succinct. No long stories.

  3. Describe your emotions about this issue. Potential emotions might include anger, concern, worry, sadness, fear, frustration. "Describe whatever emotion is true for you. . . . For example, . . . "I'm deeply concerned and I am fearful of the possible consequences." --"Telling someone what emotion his or her behavior evokes in you is intimate and disarming. You are letting the person know that you are affected, that you are vulnerable."

  4. Clarify what is at stake, why this is important--for the individual you are confronting, for yourself, others, the team, the organization, the family, the relationship. . . . "Use the words at stake: 'This is what is at stake.'"

  5. Identify your contribution to the problem--"How I have behaved in ways guaranteed to produce or influence the very results with which I am unhappy." --Examples: "I have contributed to this problem by not reviewing your priorities and due dates with you. I will correct that." "I've contributed to this problem by not letting you know months ago how upset I was. Instead, I withdrew, and consequently, our relationship deteriorated even further. For that, I am sorry."

  6. Restate the issue and indicate your wish to resolve it. HINT: "Use the word resolve; it shows that there is no firing squad waiting outside the door. This is not a termination or an ending." Example: "This is what I want to resolve with you, Jackie, the effect your leadership style is having on the team."

  7. Invite your partner to respond. In essence: "I have just told you what concerns me, the issues as I see them. I have told you I am hoping for resolution. Now I want to understand what is happening from your perspective. Please talk to me about what's going on. . . ."
Assumptions related to and implications of the above opening statement (p. 154): "Nobody owns the entire truth about [the topic], including me. I would like for the two of us to interrogate reality, side by side, as if we are walking down some stairs, one at a time. If it gets scary, we can sit down on a step until we're ready to continue. Imagine that we both have flashlights to illuminate the issue. Both of us might see something new. Both of us may gain perspective. . . . We may both learn something."

pp. 142-144: Some good hints concerning confrontational conversations

  • Avoid "So, how's it going?" "Openings like this are disrespectful and dishonest." Plus, it is unprofitable. "Most people determine to bluff their way through a veiled confrontation for as long as possible. . . . Don't provide the opportunity. If what you really want to say is 'Your job is on the line,' then say that. Clearly, cleanly, and calmly."

  • Avoid the "Oreo cookie"--compliment, bad news, compliment. "The popularity of the Oreo cookie approach causes many people to break out in a sweat anytime they are paid a compliment, since it often signals an imminent kick in the backside. . . .

    "People deserve better than this. . . . People deserve to know exactly what is required of them, how and on what criteria they will be judged (including attitude), and how they are doing."

  • Avoid too many pillows ("softening the message"). "Replace pillows with clear requests. . . . While we often tell ourselves we are softening the message so as not to hurt someone else's feelings, we are really trying to protect ourselves. . . . One of the rules of fierce conversations is that you must go first. When? When you're tired of limping and decide to remove the stone from your shoe."
2. Interaction.

Scott summarizes this in one point: Inquire into your partner's views.

Some key sub-points:

  • If your partner says something with which you violently disagree, resist the temptation to build a stronger case. Simply listen so that your own learning may be provoked.

  • Ask questions.

  • Dig for full understanding.

  • Don't be satisfied with what's on the surface.

  • Summarize: "May I tell you what I'm hearing? I want to make sure I've understood you."
3. Resolution.

This portion of the conversation involves summarizing and committing to a course of action: "What have we learned? Where are we now? Has anything been left unsaid that needs saying? What is needed for resolution? How can we move forward from here, given our new understanding?" And then, "Make an agreement and determine how you will hold each other responsible for keeping it."

On pp. 140-142, Scott describes a terrible situation that required a fierce conversation along the lines of what I've just summarized. Pp. 158-162 summarize the conversation as it occurred. Very enlightening. Well worth the price of the book!
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