Effective, clear and direct lines of communication are essential for any high-performing organisation, including schools. One of the most challenging aspects of this is the ability of leaders to have successful difficult conversations. Leadership experts Maria Brosnan and Sonia Gill identify 10 common mistakes, which, if avoided, can help ensure the smooth running of a school.
1. Waiting too long to raise the issue with the person
Who likes conflict? Pretty much no-one (including us!) So it’s no surprise that most of us will avoid having a difficult conversation. We wait too long and it usually makes it more difficult.
When this happens, be honest and start by telling them why you didn’t raise it before. There could be a range of reasons, such as
- You didn’t want to hurt their feelings
- You thought it was a one-off but now a pattern has emerged
- You hoped the issue would fix itself and because it hasn’t you feel you need to raise it now.
6. Not telling people what you want in place of the problem
This relates to point 5 in that we need to tell people what we want to happen using specific language and examples.
When preparing for a difficult conversation, or if you find yourself in one, try to answer this question: If they were to make the change you wanted tomorrow, what would be different? Describe this in detail.
7. Thinking you know the best way to fix the problem
Most of us like to solve problems and when faced with an issue that requires a difficult conversation, we start to think about solutions. The problem is we only know some of the reason behind the issue, so there's a good chance our solution won't solve the problem in a way that works for everyone.
If you think you have a solution, try to wait until the other person has shared how they think it can be fixed before offering your solution. If you find this hard (and lots of people do), try writing it on a piece of paper to help you manage your desire to tell them. It sounds silly but it works.
8. Not thinking about how you deliver the message
People think about different things before having a difficult conversation, but most don't think about their non-verbal communication. This carries a lot of information and can be the difference between a difficult conversation and a successful one.
Try mirroring some body language, for example sit how the other person sits. This simple technique will help you both relax.