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How To Have Tricky Conversations with Colleagues

Succession Planning for Your Governing BodyIn order to be effective in your role you’re going to have to say ‘no’ to some of the people, some of the time. Otherwise your work-life balance will get caught up in a twisted vortex of increasing demands on your shrinking time.

But as we all know, saying ‘no’ can be tricky – especially in an organisation like a school where everyone is under constant pressure.

So if you are in the position where you have to have a difficult conversation – here are some things to bear in mind to help keep the discussion professional and productive.

1) Give Yourself Space and Time

If you are going to have to have a tricky conversation you need to make sure you’re not rushed or hurried. Sometimes emotions can get heated and that’s when you become less able to control the situation – and end up saying something which you might regret. So make sure you’re somewhere where you’re not likely to be interrupted and when you’ve got time to have a long conversation if there are lots of issues that need to be worked through.

2) Give a Thorn Between Two Roses

Standard advice this, but it really does work – give your bad news surrounded by bits of good news. This allows you to be open and honest whilst limiting the emotional impact of what you have to say. Finding something good in the situation

3) Forget the Past

One of the ways that discussions easily turn into arguments is when people start trying to pin blame and responsibility on actions that have already happened. If you don’t need to revisit what happened, then don’t. Don’t look to make value judgements on the actions that have already happened, just say ‘Moving forward, it would be great if you could keep me in the loop about projects like this.’

4) Always Want to Help

You’ll always do better in conflict situations if you adopt a position of being well disposed to the person you’re having a discussion with. So don’t say ‘I don’t want to help you right now.’ rather say ‘I would love to help you with that, but if I did that I wouldn’t be able to get X, Y and Z done which is very important right now.’

5) Listen to their Concerns

If it your conversation does start to descend into an argument and a lot of dirty laundry is being aired – just listen. There’s no way quite as effective as stirring someone up than trying to interrupt them when they’re speaking. Even if they make a mistake, or say something wrong, wait for them to finish and then pick it back up (or better still if it’s not important leave it be). Eventually, however angry someone is – they’ll talk themselves out.

Plus an extra one – Try and Offer Something Concrete

Even if you can’t help someone directly or can’t do exactly what they need you will appear more positive if you’re able to offer them something you can do. Often you’re able to find a compromise that suits both parties. If you do need to shift the deadline or offer a compromise, do stick to the new one – otherwise you’ll find that next time you try to do it it becomes a lot more difficult to pull this one off.


One response to “How To Have Tricky Conversations with Colleagues”

  1. Avatar John Gardner says:

    Excellent advice that I can still use near the end of my teaching career.

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Tom Hesmondhalgh

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