“In any situation, the person who can most accurately describe reality without laying blame will emerge as the leader, whether designated or not.” – Susan Scott
Executive coach Susan Scott has written a book called, Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work and in Life One Conversation at a Time. In it, Scott addresses the need in the business world to speak the truth, even in hard times, both with others and with ourselves. By fierce, Scott doesn’t mean combative or angry. Rather, she explains fierceness as “robust, intense, strong, powerful, passionate, eager, unbridled.”
Scott’s message has value for business managers and CEOs because of its emphasis on pursuing truth and truly listening to those around us. Let’s look at a couple of Scott’s lessons for business leaders, then see what Scripture has to say on the subject of fierce conversations. As we continue to discover what we can learn about business skills in the Bible, let’s look to Christ’s conversations, especially the intense ones.
Fierce Conversation Lessons
One of Scott’s lessons is to “interrogate reality,” that is, really try to dig deeply in your questions in a conversation, getting to the heart of what you or your conversant feel and think. Another lesson is “Be prepared to be nowhere else,” in other words, delve into the present moment of a conversation; don’t be halfhearted or distracted about it! Other lessons involve allowing silence to be present in conversation and focusing first on the person rather than first on your identity as boss or coworker.
Listening deeply is key, Scott teaches, to identifying what issues are at stake in a conversation:
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.
The primary insight to be gleaned from Scott’s notion of fierce conversations is that we need to actively pursue reality, going beyond the surface to connect with others on a deep, personal level as well.
Christ’s Conversations… With St. Peter
Scott’s lessons have an intriguing impact when related to Scripture, where, if we look closely, we find that Christ had fierce conversations, too. For instance, Christ engages in what we could describe as a fierce conversation with St. Peter when He entrusts St. Peter with his mission as first leader of the early Church. This is an intense message if ever there was one! Pope Benedict XVI describes how the conversation alternates back and forth between Christ asking St. Peter if he loves Him, and St. Peter responding.
Pope Benedict XVI notes that the Greek word Christ first uses to ask St. Peter about his love, agapas-me, refers to total, unconditional love. When Christ asks St. Peter if he loves Him in this way, St. Peter replies with a different, humble form of love, filo-se. St. Peter is replying that he does love Christ, as much as he can in his conditional, human, weak way. Christ repeats the question, still using the unconditional form of love, and St. Peter repeats the only response he feels he can give: filo-se.
Leveling With Those You Speak
Pope Benedict XVI notes that the intensity—the fierceness—of Christ repeating His question cuts to the core of St. Peter, perhaps even grieving him. There is no superficiality here, but rather a powerful encounter between two people truly listening to each other’s words and hearts. The third time He questions St. Peter, Christ finally asks, “Fileis-me?” The Pope describes:
Jesus has put himself on the level of Peter, rather than Peter on Jesus’ level! It is exactly this divine conformity that gives hope to the Disciple, who experienced the pain of infidelity. From here is born the trust that makes him able to follow [Christ] to the end.
In Fierce Conversations, Scott writes, “There is something within us that responds deeply to people who level with us.” How powerful is Christ’s example of this in his fierce conversation with St. Peter, the first pope!
Christ’s Conversations…With the Woman at the Well
Let’s look briefly at one more Scriptural example of Christ engaging in a fierce conversation. One of the longest one-on-one conversations in the New Testament takes place between Christ and the Samaritan woman He meets at the well. The Samaritan woman is looked down upon in society and is known to be a sinner. Yet Christ looks beyond the cultural barriers and societal relationships to her personhood, honing in on that.
By asking the Samaritan woman for a drink of water, Christ invites a conversation, asking her to respond and encouraging her generosity. Christ’s message to her of the possibility of divinization, of living water, is a difficult and intense one— a truly fierce conversation to have with anyone, but especially a stranger from Samaria! In their conversation, Christ asks the woman to change her life and put aside her vices and bad habits. The conversation bears fruit, which is due, at least in part, to the integrity with which Christ speaks, the passion of his message, and the mercy with which He listens to her.
Fierce Conversations Can Transform
While she had come to the well only planning to draw water, Christ’s personal sanctity and the truth of His message arrested the Samaritan woman, engaging her in a fierce conversation that transformed her life. She left the conversation ready to be a witness to the message she had heard. As Scott says, “… our lives succeed or fail one conversation at a time.” What an effect one conversation can have! The power of a fierce conversation is one of the most important business skills in the Bible that we need to learn.
Christ’s Conversations… And Us
Christ’s conversations reveal to us insights about the fierce conversations we may need to have in our own lives. In any fierce conversation, the truth of our message is forceful, but the presentation must be lived in love in real time. Speaking the reality we see and experience— and asking others to reveal the reality they’ve encountered— makes us vulnerable, stripping away the securities of shallowness and sometimes even social politeness.
But these conversations that cut to the core are the ones that will change our lives, allowing us to connect deeply, learn more than we otherwise could have, and forge effective relationships in ministry or business. In a world that often objectifies or stereotypes, having fierce conversations can play a critical role in learning to re-see the priority of the person, who is always a person first, never to be used as an object.
Keeping this in mind, what fierce conversations might Christ be calling you to have, with yourself, your spouse, your employer, your friend?