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How to Have Fierce Conversations

The Seven Steps of Fierce Conversations

Fierce conversations are about communicating in a direct, dynamic and effective way. In our view, framing is the most critical element within a fierce conversation. Michael Hall, a leader in the field of NLP compares fierce conversations to a crucible.  

A crucible is a fragile container, often made of graphite, which holds hot molten metal during the purification process.  Like a crucible, fierce conversations are built upon fragile frames but have the ability to withstand heated discussions that lead to significant outcomes.

Below are the seven principals of fierce conversations to practice should you wish to engage people more fully and improve your relationships.

  1. Unconditional Positive Regard – This is a concept developed by psychologist Carl Rogers.  It is the basic acceptance of the other person regardless of his opinions or actions. This first step builds the strength for the system to hold the heat of the conversation.  Here you learn to separate the behaviors from the person.  Whether the discussion is one on one or is with a group, this involves an agreement that we care about each other above and beyond the behaviors we are talking about.   We commit to hold the other person in unconditional positive regard.   
  2. State of Witnessing – The second stage is to take a step back and become objective. You need to evaluate the conversation from a third person perspective.  This is really about taking a fifth person perspective in order to utilize first, second, third, and fourth person without getting caught in those perspectives.  You need to learn how to step in and step out of the different perspectives.
  3. Acceptance – Acceptance means embracing what is, as it is. This is an agreement not to dredge up the past.  The past is simply a referent point that is sometimes useful but can be used to blame and hold people accountable for things they cannot change. Our recommendation is to accept the present and talk about what is happening now to discuss what actions can be taken to make a difference in the current situation.  
  4. Authentic Truth – The truth is the truth, and the truth is undeniable. That is to say when faced with the truth about what is really going on, there is a part in each of us that knows the truth. This is what we’re trying to get to in having a fierce conversation. To have a fierce conversation, you must be able to speak the truth in a direct and transparent way without a hidden agenda.
  5. Response-ability – Response-ability is the ability to respond. To take response-ability is to understand where your power starts and where it finishes.  You are responsible for only four elements. These include your two private powers; your thinking and feeling, as well as your two public powers; your speaking and behaving. Everything outside of these four powers is influence, yet paradoxically, when you take ownership of the powers, you gain influence.  You can only take responsibility for the four powers; you are responsible to everything else. Knowing this distinction can help you stay in acceptance.  You are responsible for your thoughts and feelings. When everyone takes responsibility for their powers in a conversation, communication moves to a higher level.
  6. Appreciation –  To continue elevating the quality of your conversations, you need to appreciate the other person’s failings and fallibilities as well as you own.
  7. Self-actualization – The steps culminate with the peak experience of self-actualizing through the conversation.  Fierce conversations are self-actualizing conversations that bring us to clarity.

The goal of having a fierce conversation is to enable honest, true, and authentic conversations about the behaviors, attitude, culture or systems that aren’t working as effectively as they could be.  That is to say, the frames that are holding back the individual’s or collective’s self-actualisation. 

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