Hi, I hope this finds you well.

I thought it would be useful to say some things about difficult conversations, since that’s a topic that some of you have raised already.  I’m attaching a couple of resources (more on those below), but I think I have two main points that I’d like to emphasize.

First, at the Center we do a lot of work on this topic, and one of the things we have learned through interviews with leaders is that a lot of conversations that ought to happen simply don’t happen.  I have a lot of well-thought out theory on WHY they don’t happen, but the point is that there is no real excuse for letting a concern go unaddressed.

Second, it seems that a lot of leaders, especially those new to positions like principal, have the perception that difficult conversations should “go more smoothly” or “be more successful” or “the other person would really hear me and not get defensive” if the LEADER were better at delivering a message.  I think there’s a bit of a myth here, that if the LEADER gets better at transmission, then the other person will say “oh, of course, why didn’t see it before?!”  What the other person hears often has much more to do with what is going on for them, rather than what is actually said or not said.  I can give you dozens of examples of this.  But the point is, while you should always strive for dignity, honesty and tact, you may not always be able to convince the listener of anything, or make them feel a certain way.

The goal, then, is first of all just to have the conversation, and second to make your point clearly and listen respectfully.  If you can do those two things, you have accomplished a great deal and you shouldn’t beat yourself up if the other person doesn’t hug you at the conclusion.

I and two of my colleagues wrote a short article about this that was published by ASCD Express a couple of summers ago, so I’m attaching that in case it’s useful.  Also, I’m attaching a resource I’ve used in various leadership and coaching programs that is a highly condensed research summary of difficult conversations—although I’ve used it mainly as a tool to start a discussion and/or have folks surface their assumptions about challenging conversations.

As your coach, I am very happy to talk with you about planning for difficult conversations and role playing conversations that you know you have to have and want to practice.

As always, I would appreciate any feedback you have as to how useful this email is, whether there is any specific follow up you would like for yourself or your team, and whether there are any other topics you would like to resources for.

Improving Schools from Within ASCD Express

Feedback and Challenging Conversations

Isobel Stevenson PhD PCC
Program Coordinator
Connecticut Center for School Change
151 New Park Avenue
Hartford, CT 06106
Office: 860.586.2340

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