Friday, March 6, 2015

Tough Conversations

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I recently reflected on conflict and ideas on how to whether its ill effects. By no means am I anywhere near comfortable with conflict, but I think that awareness provides me with an opportunity to learn more about what I can do to deal with it effectively when it pops up.

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Our last leadership session focused on having hard coaching conversations - which can come from or lead to conflict. It's a heavy duty topic in my opinion but an important one to address and discuss. One of the first things that was established was a point of view that can provide clarity and comfort around having tough conversations. If tough conversations are perceived as opportunities to foster growth and develop cognitive capacity then who wouldn't want to engage in such practices? The trick to all of this (if I can call it that) is/are the relationships we have with our colleagues and our students. A good relationship will certainly allow for a tough conversation to be interpreted as a caring or 'tough love' conversation that is meant to assist. A weak relationship leaves people feeling defensive and hurt. Again, we are reminded that building positive relationships is a key ingredient to any of our pursuits in life.

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The key learning I take away from this portion of the leadership program revolves around what are referred to as "Tools for Coaching" - four ingredients (purpose, presence, rapport, pausing-paraphrasing) that can assist with hard conversations by reminding us that 1) all people have dignity and giftedness that allow them to make valuable contributions to their community; 2) we are made to exist in relationship with one another and that relationships require learning and growth; 3) institutions should serve people and not the other way around; and 4) lasting change comes from encouraging growth in others.

With this new learning we were encouraged to seek out opportunities to practice the skills, notice the how our interactions begin to change, refine our skills based on our reflections, and extend our skills.

Through the lens of the Catholic Leadership Framework, the following expectations stand out to me as I engage in building trusting relationships where tough conversations would be perceived as beneficial rather than harmful:

  • encourage staff to be innovative in helping students meet expectations (setting directions)
  • acknowledge and celebrate the accomplishments of individuals and teams (building relationships and developing people) 
  • build upon and respond to individual staff members’ unique needs and expertise (building relationships and developing people) 
  • foster mutual respect and trust among those involved in collaboration (developing the organization to support desired practices)
  • encourage the collaborative development of group processes and outcomes (developing the organization to support desired practices)
  • provide advice to teachers about how to solve classroom problems by supporting a solution-focused learning environment based on Catholic values (improving the instructional program)
  • assess their own contributions to school achievements and take into account feedback from others on their performance (securing accountability)

The "Tools for Coaching" and the above mentioned expectations have been at the forefront of many of my interactions with my close colleagues. There have been some tough conversations - initiated by me and initiated by others towards me. I have found that having an understanding and awareness around this topic to be quite valuable. Combined with good working relationships, there is a lot of growth that seems to be benefiting everyone involved.

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I have also been involved in difficult interactions where I didn't feel valued as a colleague. In those circumstances I initially felt upset and defensive. I found myself engaged in self talk about what I could do to lessen the ill effects of a tough conversation where  rapport and presence did not seem to be part of the equation. Interestingly enough, I found myself falling back on the habits of a servant and how I could salvage the situation. Luckily, I haven't found myself in too many of these situations but I have spent time reflecting on them and the positive that I could extract from them. 

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