This past week, I had the opportunity to attend the Fierce Conversations workshop here at the Fierce Seattle headquarters. As a member of Generation Z graduating from college soon and beginning my professional career, I was a little nervous about how I would be able to relate to a room full of seasoned leaders representing a variety of industries.
This is me having a candid conversation with you: my expectations were blown out of the water, right out of the Puget Sound if you will.
During the first day of the two-day workshop, we had some real conversations with our two facilitators, Ronna Detrick and Fierce EVP of Learning Tom Seeberger. There were many head nods across the room, murmurs of agreement, and whispers of "Yep, happens to me all the time" as we talked about common issues that business leaders at all levels are tackling in the workplace.
I found myself thinking back to various situations or conflicts I've had in my relatively modest work experience. To be honest, I questioned whether not having twenty-plus years of work experience would qualify me to fully utilize the concepts and tools that we were learning.
As I reached the end of my first day in the workshop, I had my own apostrophe moment. It was like a light went on in my brain that grew from dim to brighter to brightest.
Of course, duh. The beauty of this experience was that I could take these tools and start using them now, make fierce conversations a part of my DNA and the bedrock of how I communicated. I wouldn't need to wait twenty years before realizing with a strong dose of amazement and ruefulness that I've been falling into the same conversation patterns all along, the kind that don't promote growth or ignite the results you want.
I let silence do the heavy lifting, turning the concept around in my mind and letting it develop in the way that it should. This concept is one of the seven Fierce principles from the Foundations program, and challenges you to let the silence in a conversation be a moment for everyone in the conversation to reflect internally. It is often where moments of transformation occur, and can be more powerful than words spoken out loud.
Just think what the future of a business would look like if Gen Z professionals like myself (who are now entering the workforce) were equipped with the conversation skills needed to create a strong company, to enrich relationships and interrogate realities, sit in silence, and have damn difficult conversations.
Through this approach, you are growing the skill sets needed to address a future issue before it arises. And if more young professionals entering the workforce were able to develop these skills, imagine what potential ineffective or nonexistent conversations would be avoided!
The possibility is exciting, motivating, and challenging.
Why not be an effective leader today instead of the leader tomorrow who must reverse an entire mindset after years of working in the same groove. By "groove," I mean the status quo ways of communicating, the conversations that seem safe and don't challenge us to be real and authentic with ourselves and with others.
Here are some ways that you can apply this approach to developing young talent in your company. Or even better, pass this along to a young professional that you know.
Be aware of your filters
During the workshop, we talked about the three transformational ideas at the foundation of Fierce Conversations. Idea number three is that your filter — a collection of your beliefs, attitudes, truths, and opinions — is the lens through which you see the world.
What's important to remember is that your filter becomes your Truth — and by using the capital T, I am indicating the beliefs, attitudes, and perceptions that form the basis of what we know, that are all we know, and that become our one version of reality. What you see and experience afterwards will be viewed through this filter and what doesn't agree with your Truth will be subconsciously deflected.
Since our behavior reflects our filter and our behaviors drive results, it's important to look at our results and see if we need to adjust our contexts. Are we reaching our goals? Are we growing?
As a young adult, I know that it can be hard to make decisions based on the what-if of a still-hazy future. To think with a growth mindset requires practice. As I sat in the training room at Fierce and took in all this, I realized that my own filter was still being formed, and that I had the opportunity to begin testing it now to see where it could shift.
That's a gift.
Learn to prioritize and delegate today
Going through the Delegation program, I took a few moments to think about the top three tasks that eat up the most time during a typical work day. Maybe I enjoyed these activities, and I'm most likely very good at them. (This is probably why I enjoy doing them. Ego speaks a fierce truth.)
They are just that: tasks. Boxes begging to be checked off. As a young professional eager to impress and meet everyone's expectations, it's easy to fall into the mindset of prioritizing chores and tasks lists. It's the stuff that eats at your workday.
Fierce Facilitator Ronna Detrick read out loud a quote from author Annie Dillard that hit home with me:
"How we spend our days is how we spend our lives."
Is my life a series of tasks or steps in my development? As a young professional, I can be more effective when I am doing things that impact a company's -- and most importantly, my own --growth.
As we walked through the Delegation Program, I thought about how I was spending my life, specifically my life at work. How was I developing and taking on new responsibilities in my role? What enjoyable time-takers were eating away at my development? How could I prioritize a future of growth professionally and personally?
I examined these questions over the remainder of the day and even when I went home, taking it as a chance to interrogate my reality.
See every reality on the beach ball
This might seem like an obvious tip. Of course you value getting the perspectives of everyone on your team for a project or problem, right?
As a young adult, I don't have near as much experience and hindsight as many of the people I work with. I've never run a business or managed a large team or developed a product and brought it to market.
Does that make my input any less valuable? No.
At Fierce, we call this a beach ball conversation, where the leader facilitating a team meeting values every reality on the "ball" --even the one that has twenty less years of experience. The beauty of this model is that each person in the team brings their unique perspectives to the table. We all see a problem in a different way. Contrary to the saying, no two minds think exactly alike (no matter how great).
At this meeting, the goal isn't necessarily to solve the problem. The goal is to get everyone's perspectives, to be curious and ask "what else?"
Hold everyone able.
That includes the intern. The associate. The new hire fresh out of college and probably nervous about coming to the table and saying, "I have an idea. Have you considered this?"
As a business leader, make sure that you are including a diversity of realities in your analysis of a problem. Invite younger perspectives. Value what everyone has to bring to the table since their reality may shed light on a detail that you missed.
Explore more about the beach ball conversation here.
What does the future look like for you?
Over the years, especially as I've approached my college graduation, I've received tidbits of advice from family, friends and mentors. Some of it has been useful: what kind of car to buy, how to balance classes and work, job recommendations, and helpful tips for networking and building connections.
But I have yet to have had a conversation with an adult mentor where we talked about how to build a strong foundation of communication skills that will help me be successful in my professional and personal relationships. Instead, I've been figuring it out as I go along, learning by trial and error how to handle a confrontation at work, balance priorities and deadlines, coach someone I am training, or use an authentic, real conversation to dig for a solution to an issue.
It's not empowering. To be honest, it's disheartening.
When I first read Susan Scott's bestselling book, "Fierce Conversations" prior to attending the workshop, I had many apostrophe moments, but the most epic light bulb that went off in my head was the realization that, "Why didn't I know about this sooner? I wish someone had told me about this conversation tool!"
That was a frustrating moment.
But I was also excited by the tools that I could use going forward. And hopeful. I felt empowered to more fully take advantage of my development professionally and to enrich my relationships with family and friends. I was thinking of the future and I knew how to implement this today.
And if I don't have all the answers for what the future will look like, I can still ask myself the important question that we were asked during the workshop, "But if you did know, what would it be?"
If you're interested in seeing how Fierce Conversations can help you transform your workplace culture and communications, check out our workshops and webinars.