When you read through the biography of Jesus in the Christian Gospels, you can’t help but notice He had some very fierce conversations.
Think of His numerous challenges to Peter (Luke 22), or His revealing conversation with the woman at the well (John 6). How about His challenge to the Pharisees (John 8), or His upfront comments to doubting Thomas (John 20). What about critiquing His disciples’ ego-driven leadership style (Luke 9)? And we catch our breath when we read how He told the rich young ruler to sell everything He had, give the proceeds to the poor, and follow Him, even though He knows this fierce conversation would be deeply troubling for the young man (Luke 18).
Some of Jesus’ conversations were no doubt emotionally painful for His listeners. But He seemed to intuitively know that interrogating reality and pointing out “the undiscussable” was essential if people were to move forward in life. And He was willing to let the chips fall where they may.
There was something about the way Jesus showed His deep concern for the well-being of people in His frank conversations with them. But so often our human nature shies away from intense conversations and fierce dialogue. Such moments are not easy. We don’t pant after them. Nevertheless, our leadership journeys have taught us they are very necessary if the core values of our organization, our church, or our family are going to be protected. I remember the first time ever I was challenged as a young college student by my employer. It rocked me back on my proverbial heels and caused me to come face to face with my lack of expected performance. I needed that fierce conversation.
When was the last time you shied away from a tough dialogue? Perhaps we are reluctant to engage in tough conversations because we fear how we will be perceived. We want to “preserve the peace,” and the people-pleasing side of our nature wins the day. Or we don’t want to face the uncertainty of how our employee, or partner, or child, or spouse, or customer will respond. Maybe we shrink back from a legitimate fear of creating turbulence in someone’s life. Out of ostensible compassion, we keep silent, and our failure to confront reality only results in a further deterioration of the relationship, or a failure to meet performance goals or even a toxic fracture in the workplace.
But in her book, Fierce Conversations, Susan Scott reminds us that most people want to hear the truth, even if it is unpalatable, and there is something within us that often responds deeply to people who level with us. Jesus was a “leveler.” His conversations were robust, intense, powerful, and always motivated by love. He never had an inauthentic, fake interaction with anyone. He always made the conversation real, seeking the best interests of others.
Scott tells us that in its simplest form,
“A fierce conversation is one in which we come out from behind ourselves into the conversation and make it real. While many are afraid of ‘real,’ it is the unreal conversation that should scare us to death. Unreal conversations are incredibly expensive for organizations and for individuals. Whoever said talk is cheap was mistaken.”
As we go into this week, let’s be alert to those moments when our leadership instincts are telling us it’s time for a fierce conversation. When the temptation comes to avoid the topic, hold back, or change the subject, instead let’s take that deep breath and make the conversation real. Such conversations are the stuff that strengthens marriages, develop character in our children, build strong teams that can tackle and resolve tough challenges, and enable us to become positive agents for change.
Sure, our hearts may pump a little faster, and the mouth may go dry. Such conversations are never easy. But they are necessary.
Blessings for your next fierce conversation.
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