7 Ways To Manage Difficult Conversations

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Holly Gardner

Holly Gardner is TT Editor, as well as a Freelance Publisher. She has been working with @TeacherToolkit for over 6 years - since she published his first book in her role as Senior Commissioning Editor at Bloomsbury Publishing. Since then, she left her day job,...
Read more about Holly Gardner

How good are you at having those difficult chats with colleagues?

There are times in life when you must have a difficult conversation with someone, whether it’s at home, in your social life or at school. It might be with a colleague in your department, or it might be in the role of a line-manager.

I used to dislike any kind of confrontational conversation – who doesn’t? – putting it off for as long as I could, or trying to do it via email instead because the anxiety it caused was too much to cope with. Nowadays, I’m much more experienced and it is often a decision about when to do it, rather than choosing if I should or shouldn’t.

It’s important you get better at it a colleague taught me: it’s a matter of respect. If you respect a friend, colleague or employee, you should have the courage and make the time to talk to them honestly, rationally and clearly if there is a problem that needs dealing with.

We Need To Talk

It’s very unlikely that a teacher will have had any formal training in managing difficult conversations, but it is a really important process to get right. Here are some tips to get you feeling prepared and in the right frame of mind.

1. Have the conversation sooner rather than later

Too often we postpone the difficult conversation because we know that it won’t be easy, and potentially we drain our own energies and emotions. While it is important not to rush into something, procrastination simply makes the situation worse. Keep the matter private and professional.

2. Stick to the facts

Describe carefully the behaviour that has led you to speak to the individual. Have all the facts ready. Describe the impact of the behaviour on others, for example, students, colleagues or yourself. Ensure the person understands why there has to be a change in behaviour. Always have to hand the Teacher’s Standards and your own school policies. If you do need to quote from them, allow adequate time for the individual to read the details before responding. Hopefully this level of detail won’t be needed as an initial conversation is usually all that’s required to rectify most situations.

3. Focus on the future

Talk about what is going to be different in the future. Depending on the nature of the conversation, this could be specific procedures that are required to be put in place, or simply a verbal commitment from the individual to take what has been said and act on it.

4. Show respect

No matter how important the issue is, always ensure that you show respect for the individual as a person. You are taking issue only with the behaviours and not the individual. Give the member of staff time to digest, respond and reflect.

5. Allow time

Even where the issue is perfectly clear and must be addressed, ensure the individual’s voice is heard. While you are dealing with a particular issue, you are also modelling a process that shows respect for all.

6. Keep a tight control of your emotions

Don’t allow your emotions to get the better of you. To raise justifiable concerns in an unjustifiable manner simply creates more problems. Always be professional, and remember that the other person is not enjoying this either!

7. Reflect

After the event, always reflect on how you could have done better, and then move on. Beware of replaying conversations again and again in your head; what you should have said or not said – this can be exhausting. Accept what is done and move on. Sometimes a small follow-up conversation or nod of the head is enough when next seeing or meeting with the same colleague.

Are you good at having difficult conversations? Why not try out these strategies next time you have one, and let us know if they help.

@TeacherToolkit Book Vitruvian Teacher Man Resilience Version 2These strategies have been extracted from Ross Morrison McGill’s book, Te@cher Toolkit: Helping You Survive Your First Five Years.







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