I've had the honour of working for and serving so many colleagues who have contributed to my personal development. Over the years, I have accumulated words of wisdom and advice from outstanding leaders across the country, who have used their vast knowledge and experience to support the leaders of the future.
The opportunities that I’ve been privileged to undertake, were, as a result of being trusted by outstanding leaders. I’m indebted to them: without their encouragement I would have left teaching after my third year. The series of blog posts are my way of documenting my thoughts and learning. They will be written in no particular order.
Managing difficult conversations
Having worked in a number of middle and senior leader roles, I've had my fair share of difficult conversations. During the early years, being a young middle leader working in an experienced department, I didn't have the courage to approach staff to address issues. To be honest, I didn’t want to: nor did I know how to manage. I'd have sleepless nights worrying about the outcome of the discussion and possible fall out.
Over the years, I’ve realised that we don't only need courage but also tact in approaching and managing difficult conversations.
The topic has been discussed on #SLTChat. I’ve captured a few thoughts below:
1. Set out your non-negotiables and share these with your colleagues.
For me it's the basics: ensure lessons are planned, homework is marked, turn up to lessons on time and treat students and colleagues with respect. If these are not met, I'll have the courage to have a conversation with colleagues.
Question: What are you non-negotiables?
2. Check your facts.
During a learning walk or book audit, you find a book with no homework. Check other books and ask the students. You need to ensure that you triangulate your sources (apologies for the Ofsted terminology).
3. Plan the meeting.
Once you've established the hard facts, you need to plan through how you're going to manage the conversation. How are you going to approach the colleague? Where will the conversation take place? What will happen if some new information is bought to your attention?
Even today, I'll take time to reflect and plan how to manage the conversation and consider ‘what if' situations. Early on in my career I was fortunate to discuss my thoughts with a mentor. It is very useful if you can find someone to discuss your thoughts with.
Question: Who could you use?
4. Tackle the core problem.
Don’t get distracted by matters that are not relevant to the issue you want to discuss. Whilst these matters may be important, your conversation has a purpose, stay focused on the issue in front of you and don’t get sidetracked.
5. Show your moral purpose.
Books haven't been marked for over a term, a child's learning and attitude to the subject have deteriorated. Parents haven't complained but the issue has been bought to your attention. Frankly, that's not good enough. Once you provide an opportunity for the colleague to put their points across, show your moral purpose. Tell them how it's not good enough!
6. Keep your emotions under control.
You may end up in a situation which could possibly infuriate you. Always remain under control: don't get frustrated.
Employ force field analysis. If they look to attack you verbally, press the imaginary button in your mind that places a force field around you. Try it! Ensure that you challenge the behaviour, not the person. If you're unable to continue with the meeting due to frustration, stop it and reconvene at an appropriate time.
7. Next steps and summing up.
If you need to sound like a broken record, do so: reinforce your expectations and agree the next steps. At this point, dependent upon the situation, I may move to either ending the conversation, as the point has been made, mentoring to offer support and guidance or coaching to allow them to reflect and come up with the solutions.
After the meeting, evaluate and review how it went. No two meetings will have the same outcome; some will go well and others not so well. Ensure that you stick to your non-negotiables, working in the best interests of your students and staff.
Part 3: ‘Conflict within teams’ to follow. #LeadershipLessons
Link to part 1