Home' Teacher : March 2010 Contents PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT 17
We're none of us alone if there are times
when we need to have a difficult conver-
sation with a colleague because what's
happening is destructive, but we avoid it
because 'it's the wrong time' or 'maybe it
will get better.'
The result? The problem festers inside,
we become resentful in our silence and
make the situation bigger than it really is.
It's actually normal to feel like this, because
the issue is important to us and the outcome
Difficult conversations take us out of
our comfort zone and require courage, but
there are huge rewards: not least a solution
to the problem, but often also a stronger
relationship with your erstwhile nemesis,
not to mention more confidence and respect,
and both you and your work colleague may
learn things you didn't know before.
Okay, it's worth having those difficult
conversations we often avoid, but how do
you do it? Meet Sarah. She's Mary's head
of department and she's concerned about
Mary's negative attitude to pretty much
everything. At the slightest hint of change,
or department members trying something
new, Mary lets loose, sighing loudly, rolling
her eyes and following up by talking behind
Sarah's back, undermining her efforts.
People like Mary as a person, but her
attitude has become so negative, it's affect-
ing the department. Sarah knows she has
to do something, for the wellbeing of the
department. She has a difficult conversation
ahead, so she needs to prepare herself.
First, Sarah has to ask herself what she
knows about the conflict. What are her feel-
ings? How does she see herself, her identity?
How has she got to this point?
Then Sarah has to ask herself what she
doesn't know. What's Mary's perspective?
What are her feelings? What are her possible
intentions? By being cu rious about Mary,
Sarah is better able to begin negotiating; she
has some insight into Mary's story.
Sarah then needs to identify a goal that is
possible to reach. Very often we begin a dif-
ficult conversation without knowing where
we want to end up.
Next, she needs to make enough time for
the conversation itself. This demonstrates
to Mary that she has invested in finding a
solution for them both. Conflict manage-
ment on the run just doesn't work. If it's
that important to Sarah, she has to make
Sarah and Mary also need time because
there'll be a fair bit of decoding going on
since each difficult conversation is really
three conversations about what has hap-
pened for them, what they feel, and how
they see themselves in terms of self-esteem
Next, Sarah needs to make sure she has
removed any residual urge to blame Mary
for her behaviou r and attitude, since the
aim is to negotiate a solution, not deter-
mine who is right or wrong. The less Sarah
plays theblame game, the more she relieves
Mary of the need to defend herself, and the
easier it becomes for Mary to negotiate a
The hard part about not playing the
blame game, for Sarah, is that it has to
be genuine. Sarah has to look at her own
actions to determine how she has contrib-
uted to the conflict. In Sarah's case, her
silence has allowed the situation to esca-
To take blame out of the situation, she
also has to take Mary's intentions, or more
IN SCHOOLS ACROSS AUSTRALIA THERE ARE EDUCATORS AVOIDING HAVING DIFFICULT
CONVERSATIONS WITH THEIR COLLEAGUES. DEBRA FERGUSON OFFERS SOME TIPS ON
HOW TO GET THOSE CONVERSATIONS STARTED.
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