Having a difficult conversation is never easy, but relying on your gut and core values certainly makes the decision to proceed somewhat easier. If you believe that having a crucial conversation will result in an improved situation for your students and/or staff, then it’s a no-brainer; you’ve got to have the talk, no matter how difficult. The challenge is to carry out the conversation even though it may make you feel uncomfortable. As well, making it a priority when it first comes to your attention is key because, the longer you leave it, the more difficult the difficult conversation may become.
The point of the crucial conversation is, often, to bring about a change in practice, which can be uncomfortable and intimidating for the person involved. Remember to keep the person’s dignity intact and be understanding while having this talk. Being a good listener and trying to remain empathetic will go a long way to achieving a positive outcome. However, being forthright about the reasons for the conversation and the need for change is critical.
Keeping your goal for the conversation in mind is important. Often, bouncing your ideas off another colleague or seeking advice from others to get a different perspective before proceeding can help. Having said this, dealing with the situation in a timely manner is important. However, it is never advised to enter into the conversation in an angry or upset state so, taking some time to centre yourself as well as to reflect and formulate a “game plan” is crucial.
Having a clear focus will help you stick to the point during the conversation and avoid the pitfall of straying into tangential topics. A clear plan, including not only what you’re going to address but also where and when the conversation will take place is key. Giving the person involved some advance notice is often a good idea. Finding a time that works well for the individual as well as a location that affords privacy will set the stage for success.
These difficult conversations aren’t my favourite part of the job but I believe that they are a very necessary piece. Not entering into a crucial conversation, when one is warranted, is the equivalent of burying your head in the sand as a leader, hoping that the problem disappears. Addressing issues and working to improve practice will ultimately help not only the person, students, and parents involved but also the staff morale, in general. It’s draining on the staff’s morale when they see that their leader is not addressing an issue that needs to be dealt with; it’s our job as leaders to meet these challenges head-on, when needed, thus working towards improvement in our schools.