In Search of Truth: Mastering the Art of Fierce Conversation

Written by Lisa Canning

“Artistic growth is, more than it is anything else, a refining of the sense of truthfulness. The stupid believe that to be truthful is easy; only the artist, the great artist, knows how difficult it is.”
― Willa Cather, The Song of the Lark


To speak the truth is difficult. And yet building trust and strong relationships will at some point depend on engaging in difficult conversation. When actions and words match, trust grows between individuals and inside of teams.  And for actions and words to match, fierce conversation invariably will need to be had from time to time.

At IAE, we focus on teaching our students how to speak the truth both through their artistry and in their personal and professional lives. Susan Scott wrote a great book about this topic titled Fierce Conversation: Achieving Success at Work and in Life One Conversation at a Time. Here are her seven principals you can apply to begin to increase your own level of truthfulness within your own life and with the relationships you wish to cultivate and nurture.

Principle 1: Master the courage to interrogate reality

  • Things change, and you need to come to terms with it yourself, and then share that with others.
  • You constantly need to re-examine your reality with the knowledge that it is ever evolving.
  • People don’t know what you’re thinking unless you tell them, and most people would rather know the truth, even it isn’t what the answer they want. We really appreciate the people who aren’t afraid to step up and open our eyes to reality rather than let us remain oblivious.
  • Since reality is ever evolving, so are truths. Everyone owns a piece of truth because each person has their own truths. Different realities based on different truths coexist. There is no single truth but many thruths, if you will.
  • One thing that is for sure about reality and truths is that everyone counts. Don’t let someone talk over you. Assert yourself, because although someone may have a good idea, it isn’t as good without the extra knowledge and insight that you can add.
  • Fierce conversations may be lengthy, but other, “easier” ways out will take longer, as those whose opinions were not sought undermine your solution.
  • When making decisions, don’t look to the most experienced to lead, look to the person with the most knowledge in this particular situation, as well as the person that this will most directly affect.
  • You need to be direct with reality while not pointing fingers to or away from someone to be a successful leader.
  • Don’t use the word “but.” Use “and” instead. “But” sounds like both realities are competing for veracity, when they can both be true if you use “and” instead.
  • Official Truth vs. Ground Truth: Don’t ignore or twist reality. Accept it. (work, relationships, and life)
  • You need to be open to other realities to make your own wider.
  • In order to have fierce conversations, we must be righteous and full of integrity. To achieve integrity, we must align our core beliefs and values with our actions. (scan, how and when to fix, work, relationships, and life)
  • In any aspect of your life, you get what you tolerate. Behavior is repeated when it is rewarded or isn’t deterred from it.
  • It’s all about attitude. Skill can be taught/learned later.

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. When the conversation is real, change occurs before the conversation is even over.

Principle 3: Be here, be prepared to be nowhere else.

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

Principle 4: Tackle your toughest challenge today.

Burnout doesn’t occur because we’re solving problems; it occurs because we’re trying to solve the same problems over and over. The problem named is the problem solved. Confront the real obstacles. Travel light – agenda free.

Principle 5: Obey your instincts.

Don’t just trust your instincts – obey them. Tune in. Pay attention. What we label as illusion is the scent of something real coming close.

Principle 6: Take responsibility for your emotional wake.

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.

Principle 7: Let silence do the heavy lifting.

When there is a whole lot of talking going on, conversations can be so empty of meaning they crackle. 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.


About Lisa Canning

“Vowels are to words what creativity is to the world~ basic and necessary.”

Lisa Canning is the founder of IAEOU, the Institute for Arts Entrepreneurship (IAE) and Entrepreneur the Arts.

What motivates you to explore your creativity? Follow me @IAEOU


In Search of Truth: Mastering the Art of Fierce Conversation

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