How to Resolve Issues in a Small Group Discussion

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Fierce Conversations" by Susan Scott. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

Like this article? Sign up for a free trial here.

Do you need to have an intimate conversation with a group of friends or a work team? How can you guide a small group discussion?

One of Susan Scott’s conversation models in Fierce Conversations is intended to be used for intimate conversations with one or a few people. Its purpose is to find the root of an issue and surface effective and sustainable solutions by uncovering other peoples’ truths.

To structure your small group discussion according to this model, take the following steps.

Step #1: Succinctly Explain the Issue

Your opening statement in a small group discussion must be succinct while providing the necessary details for the other person to fully understand the issue. You should express your desire to discuss the topic, provide an example to illustrate the issue, explain how it’s impacting you emotionally and why the issue is important, acknowledge any role you’ve played in the issue, and express your desire to solve it.

For example, “I’d like to talk about your mental health. You seem very emotional lately—for example, when you yelled at me yesterday for forgetting to buy milk. That startled me and made me feel guilty, and I think this issue has the potential to create distance between us and damage our relationship if it continues. I acknowledge that I might be playing a role in this issue by not being as thoughtful lately, and I want to try and come to a solution so we can make sure you’re feeling mentally healthy and happy.”

Craft Your Opening Statement

In Crucial Accountability, the authors also stress that your opening statement must be succinct and respectful to avoid overwhelming the other person with information, which can make them feel threatened. However, the authors’ recommendation for doing so differs slightly from Scott’s. They recommend starting by explaining what your expectations were and what occurred that broke them (causing the issue) while focusing on facts rather than emotions. Then, they recommend explaining how the situation impacted you. For example, “I value having calm conversations about things that make us upset, but yesterday you yelled at me for forgetting to buy milk. I could be wrong, but this makes me think you may be struggling with your mental health.”

Step #2: Ask for the Other Person’s Perspective

Once you’ve explained the issue you want to discuss, invite others into the conversation by asking them to share their perspective on the issue—what the issue is, how it’s impacting them, and what they think might be at stake. You can start with a question like, “Can you tell me more about your perspective on this topic and what might be going on with your mental health right now?” If they provide vague responses, you can directly ask them the questions to define the issue and its importance.

(Shortform note: Exploring others’ perspectives may be difficult if their responses implicate you—receiving criticism may elicit defensiveness and cause you to shut down or lash out. Experts make a few recommendations to disarm your defensiveness so you can fully listen to the other person’s perspective in these situations. For example, know the types of situations that will trigger you (such as feeling unfairly accused) so you can control your defensiveness before it impacts your behavior. Further, always try to assume good intentions—for example, instead of feeling that others are accusing you of something, assume you misunderstood them, or that they didn’t express themselves effectively.)

Then, clarify their perspective by asking for further details on their thoughts and feelings—why do they think the issue is happening, what role do they play in the issue, what’s their ideal outcome, and what actions do they think will be most effective in achieving that outcome? Ask them to elaborate on any thoughts, statements, or feelings that you don’t understand. Scott emphasizes that you should only ask questions and clarify their responses during this time—don’t interject with your own statements.

(Shortform note: The authors of Difficult Conversations provide a few additional tips to keep in mind when clarifying someone’s perspective to ensure that the questions you’re asking are truly effective. For example, don’t ask questions in an attempt to prove the other person wrong. Further, give the other person the opportunity not to answer if it makes them uncomfortable—these questions should be invitations, not demands.)

Step #3: Resolve the Issue

Discuss what each party has learned about each other’s truths during the discussion and consider whether there’s anything left that needs to be discussed or clarified to find a solution. Then, identify what needs to be done to resolve the issue and how to hold each person accountable. For example, maybe your friend needs to talk about her mental health, so she’ll schedule appointments with a therapist once a week to take accountability.

(Shortform note: Other communication experts provide further advice to ensure your solutions are effective. The authors of Difficult Conversations agree that you must clarify each perspective to ensure you have the full picture, but they also recommend sharing what would persuade you to accept a solution, asking what the other person would do in your place, and looking for external standards, like laws or company rules, to identify an objectively fair solution. The authors of Crucial Accountability add that after creating an accountability plan, you should schedule follow-up meetings to ensure that the solution is working and people are upholding their agreements.)

How to Resolve Issues in a Small Group Discussion

———End of Preview———

Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Susan Scott's "Fierce Conversations" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Fierce Conversations summary:

  • Why you must have uncomfortable discussions about feelings
  • How to uncover the most critical issues that must be addressed
  • How to ensure you stay aligned with your life goals

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.