How to Successfully Deal with Difficult Conversations

It’s something many of us would prefer not to do and I am sure if you are honest with yourself, you can identify many a time when you have ducked out of having that conversation. You know the one! The one that requires you to tell another just how it is. How it is when they:
– Don’t do as they have been asked
– Bristle and have every excuse under the sun as to why something can’t be done
– Refuse to take responsibility for the outcome of their behaviours on others
Yet, as a School Leader, you know the difficult conversations are the ones that must be had, if you, your team and your school are to continue to develop and grow.


Why are difficult conversations so challenging?

Many find difficult conversations so challenging, because very often we equate difficult conversations with conflict and very few of us have grown up with effective models for dealing successfully with conflict situations. The most common models are those that usually leave individuals feeling powerless and with no sense of their own personal agency.
Individuals were ‘taught’ to do anything for a quiet life and very often that meant keeping quiet, not rocking the boat and agreeing, even when they disagreed simply to keep the peace.
For individuals for whom this is true, when difficult conversation arise, they do not have the correct inner scaffolding for them to feel strong and confident.
Instead they find themselves battling with their own feelings of vulnerability and insecurity, which have arisen from another time and place. These feelings have out run their course. They have passed their sell by date, but will only ever cease when they are faced head on and skills are developed for successfully handling difficult conversations.


First steps in developing your skill-set

To deal successfully with difficult conversations, you need to be able to start with yourself. When you have a strong sense of your own personal agency and how you wish to be seen then difficult conversations are experienced differently. Your emotions no longer hold sway over your resolve to tackle problems. Instead you find that you are able to view difficult conversations as opportunities for your own learning, growth and development.
So, if you want to make it easier to have those difficult conversations, where do you begin? You can begin my asking yourself these questions and noting down your responses.
1. Ask yourself what did you learn about challenge/conflict when growing up?
2. How were disagreements resolved in your household or with friends and other family members?
3. How did you feel in these circumstances?
4. What role did you play in finding a solution?
By answering these questions you’ll be able to get a good sense of where you are now and what has influenced your current ability to handle difficult conversations.
You now need to ask yourself, “How do you wish to be seen by others?” This question, I have found more than any other has the power to change behaviours and attitudes in those who find it difficult to challenge others.
No School Leader wishes to be seen as weak, indecisive or un-reliable, yet when asked, “How do you wish to be seen by others?” many realise that if they continue to avoid having the difficult conversation, then they risk the diminishment of their leadership in the eyes of others. The nettle has to be grasped for the benefit of all.
Once the nettle has been grasped and there with it a clear determination to have the conversation, then you have laid the foundations for success.

Preparing for the Conversation

Your next steps are quite simply to prepare:
– What do you want for the outcome of the meeting? How will you let the other/s know the meetings, aims and purpose?
– What does the other person need to hear/know and how will you tell them?
– How will you manage the meeting? What questions will you ask and why? (A good point to remember, as made by the late Stephen Covey is, “Always seek first to understand”)
– Be prepared to really listen and show that you have listened and understood. Even if you disagree with points that have been made. it helps to break down defences and enables greater understanding
– Make sure you allow sufficient time for the meeting. In the busyness of school life, it may seem that time is a scarce resource. But time spent well spent will pay dividends, in helping to repair fractured relationships
– Know your emotional triggers and be prepared not to let them sabotage the conversation
Becoming confident in having difficult conversations is a skill that takes a great deal of time and effort to develop. Yet, it is worth it.
Having the ability to hold others to account, to remain present to what is going on inside of you and to still keep the conversation alive, is a pre-requisite for any leader whose job it is to work with individuals to bring about change.

Developing more Positive and Effective School Relationships

There is all kinds of advice out there about what makes a good School Leader, from certifications to strategies to taking the latest seminar. But what so many people miss out on is actually the most fundamental elements of good School Leadership — relationships.
In my years of working with School Leaders, I’ve learned that one of the most important skills any School Leader can have is the ability to effectively manage and nurture personalities and relationships within their school – as quite simply, when school relationships are positive – the outcomes are often more likely to be positive too.
Conversely, when relationships are strained or neglected, school teams can struggle to effectively work together and staff can find themselves increasingly becoming disconnected from what the school and their leaders are trying to achieve. In turn, leaders can find themselves spending a large amount of their time dealing with people management issues, rather than focussing on the more strategic aspects of the role.
Yet in spite of this, many leaders have not received significant training or opportunities to develop skills that could help them to deal with difficult conversations, identify how best to manage and maximise the performance.
That’s why one of the key ways that we support School Leaders fulfil their vision is by offering a 4 Day Coaching Programme designed to provide Senior School Leaders with the knowledge, skills and confidence to apply a range of coaching skills that can help improve the performance of those they lead and manage.
Our four-day coaching programme that will equip you with the skills for:
– Managing difficult conversations
– Understanding how to get the best out of individuals with challenging behaviours
– Understanding yourself better and knowing how to draw upon your strengths to get the best out of others
– Developing your relationship management skills by helping you understand how to identify and respond to different personality types
– Nurturing a Coaching Culture in your School so that you can support members of your team

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