Fierce Conversations: Sept 2015 PM Book Club Review

Fierce Conversations
Fierce Conversations

Title: Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work and in Life One Conversation at a Time
Author: Susan Scott
Year: 2004 Book Club Review: September 2015

Communication is hard. Research shows that communication is most effective when performed in person, yet none of us need research to know how often in-person communication fails. This is true in our professional lives as well as with our friends and families.

For project managers, conversations (1on1 and group) can be all day, every day events. Thus, the job project managers have is hard! And wow…haven’t we all been in conversations we could label “fierce,” but in a negative sense.

Susan Scott frames a “fierce conversation” as one that is productive and more in line with synonyms of fierce such as intense, strong, powerful, passionate, etc. She defines a fierce conversation as “one in which we come out from behind ourselves into the conversation and make it real.” It is one where emotions are valuable, objectives and vision are shared and we move beyond words and opinions and explore meaning and reality.

For this month’s review, we’ll examine three concepts from the book and give the “PM Perspective” for each.


Be here, prepared to be nowhere else

Fierce Conversations suggests that to have productive conversations, each participant must commit to being fully present in the conversation with a desire to understand what the other is trying to communicate. In our world of multi-tasking and constant distractions (SQUIRREL!), the ability to focus on one stream of information is becoming a talent. This talent is precisely what is required for effective communication.


With this spirit of “fierce,” project managers can learn to lead conversations beyond status updates, actions items and issue reporting and into conversations that are meaningful on both personal and organizational levels.

Consider one of your weekly status meetings:

  • Do team members trust that an issue they report will be treated as a project issue and not a personal failure?
  • Is alignment with organizational and project goals a regular discussion point during decision making?
  • How many team members are multi-tasking vs truly being present in the meeting as an engaged member of the team?

How often are participants just trying to get the meeting to end. Now, imagine the same meetings where each participant recognizes that conversations are an opportunity to improve project outcomes. If that sounds appealing, read on!


Mineral Rights

The mineral rights concept is borrowed from the fact that when drilling for water, it is better to drill a single hundred-foot well than one hundred one-foot wells. The concept is to “mine” for understanding by going deeper, rather than broader with the intent to:

  • Interrogate reality
  • Provoke learning
  • Tackle tough challenges
  • Enrich relationships

The book discusses various approaches to “mining” for understanding in order to achieve these goals.


Project managers are familiar with various techniques for root cause analysis. For example, the Five Why’s may be one of the most well known techniques for digging deeper into issues. These techniques are similar to the concept of mineral rights.

Don’t settle for the first statement. Chances are that some digging will uncover a treasure in the form of better understanding.


Take it personally

Work is deeply personal. Some of us are lucky enough to have our work be our passion. For other, work is the means by which we support our families and lifestyles. Either way, our work has a direct impact on what we value the most in our lives. When the personal aspects of work are ignored, dissatisfaction is sure to follow.


Facilitating conversations is more art than science. The book discusses approaches to various types of conversations, especially one on one’s and addressing sensitive issues. As with any art form, mastery requires practice. As project manager, how do you handle situations such as the following:

  • You sense a team member has something to share, but is keeping quiet
  • A team member comes to you privately to complain about another team member
  • You hear that a team member is having struggles in their personal life and it may be impacting their work

These types of situations present project managers with an option. Take them at face value or start drilling deeper. You’ll find that in many cases, the personal aspects of work are at the root of an issue. Those same personal aspect, when understood by others, can also become drivers for project success.

Project managers who are effective in such conversations will be seen more as project leaders, than managers.


  • How can a PM leverage fierce conversations concepts in a daily stand up meeting?
  • What tips do you have for getting meeting participants focused on the discussion rather than multi-tasking?
  • What from the book should have been called out in this review?

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