Knowing is Easier than Implementing: Difficult Conversations Reflection 1

There’s a book called The Ten Faces of Innovation by Tom Kelley.   Kelley discusses the roles and strengths different people can bring to a group.  One of these roles is the cross-pollinator.  The cross-pollinator is that person who has had varied experiences in life and can bring a different perspective.  I cannot say I am a cross-pollinator as teaching for the last eights years has been the only career I have had.  But, I can say, I am oftentimes drawn to not only educational books, but business, psychology, history, sociology, health and other topics.  I understand that we in the education field can learn from the experts in those fields, as they can learn from us.

In addition to Kelley’s book, I am also reading another “business” book entitled Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton and Sheila Heen. I think some teachers are turned off by business books because they see all the differences between the private and public sector.  (Side note: The misguided education philosophy of Bill Gates might affect this as well).   While I don’t think we in education should let the leaders of the business world dictate education policy, I do think we have a lot to learn from the business field.  Difficult Conversations, as with most business books, does not apply to just business.  A lot of times, it has to do with people, human nature and all our strengths and weaknesses.  For it is understanding each other and ourselves that is likely one of the biggest factors to success.

I just started Difficult Conversations, but I’d like to do a little reflection on it.  I plan to do this with all future books I read.  With eight years of teaching experiences and three years of middle-level leadership experiences, I feel like I intellectually understand what needs to be done.  For me, that is the easy part.  The hard part is applying the strategies, approaches and philosophies given the complexities of humans.  It is my hope that these reflections will help me go beyond understanding and lead to real change.

What I’ve read so far…

I love that the authors of Difficult Conversations simply and without judgment state that difficult conversations are avoided by all of us, sometimes on a daily basis.  These conversations can be as complex as addressing a deep-rooted issue with a family member or as simple as sharing with your neighbor the fact that their dog keeps you up all night.  The authors go on to say that it is not the actually conversation that we fear; it is the consequences.  Will they misperceive your intentions?  Will you hurt their feels or vice versa?  Are you being too petty in complaining about a small issue and they will think less of you? Should you just be the bigger person and suck it up?  Avoiding these issues only causes them to boil inside of you and leads to more pain than what you are avoiding.

As the authors say “There is no such thing as a diplomatic hand grenade.”  Sometimes, you have to have those conversations, even when you know things will get heated. Do not avoid the heat, because dealing constructively with tough topics will likely strengthen the relationship in the end.

So, what makes difficult conversations so difficult?  It’s the gap between what you’re really thinking and what you’re saying.  This really hit home for me.  It seems like my mind is always thinking in conversations, and not just on what is being said by the other speaker.  It is understanding these other “inner conversations” that will make difficult conversations easier.

There are three things topics we are often thinking about when having a conversation: the “what happened” conversation, the feelings conversation and the identity conversation.  Here is a brief explanation of these conversations:

1)      “What happened” conversation: You know this conversation, the one that entails truth, intentions and blame.  Both people in a conflict get caught up in being right, doubting the intentions of the other and laying blame, all of which is counterproductive.

2)      The feelings conversation: As rational as we have the ability to be, we are human and have emotions.  While it is prudent to not let your emotions get the best of you, it is also wise to address them in a mature manner.

3)      Identity conversation: We all tend to worry, subconsciously at least, how a difficult conversation will affect our self-image and it is human nature to “protect” that, to a certain degree.

 My reflections on how this relates to education…

Education has evolved into an arena where we can no longer shut our doors and do our own thing.  Of course, this still goes on, but if we truly want what is best for our kids, we must learn to collaborate and have difficult conversations.  You are seeing this already in some districts as they take part in professional learning communities, response to intervention, high-stakes testing, etc.  What I have noticed is educators are great at expressing their concerns in the hallways or behind closed doors, but not so effective at expressing and solving these issues.  In no way am I pointing my finger at teachers here.  Principals have to create a safe, trusting and respectful environment so teachers feel comfortable having difficult conversations.  And superintendents have to do the same for principals.  Doing this, I understand, is harder than what it seems when you are dealing with humans and their complexities.  This is where the book Difficult Conversations comes in.  I think this would be a great book study and one that should be required.  The acknowledgement of the facts stated in my above summary of the book is key. All of us deal with those issues, whether you’re a first-year teacher, a veteran teacher, a physical education teacher or principal.  Understanding human behavior can avoid a lot of issues and open up the door to problem solving. We do a great job in education with learning new strategies to teach reading, learning new way to motivate kids, knowing how to prepare kids for the lovely state-mandated exams, but we are also good at avoiding the very thing that holds all humans back, lack of knowledge of human nature, something that affects us every second of the day.  I think if we can expand our knowledge in this area, our students can only benefit form it.  Part of me wants to reflect more, but I think I will leave it at that for now, since I am only on page 25 in the book! More reflections to come.

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3 thoughts on “Knowing is Easier than Implementing: Difficult Conversations Reflection 1

  1. Sean

    I can really relate to this article, I love people who, because of their experience, are able to explain topics with a different perspective. I’m also drawn to various areas of study, I really enjoy anything pertaining to science or history, but because I have an addictive personality I’m really interested in everything.

    From what you’ve summarized so far “Difficult Conversations” sounds like a great book. I agree, principals have to create a safe, trusting and respectful environment so teachers feel comfortable having difficult conversations. And superintendents have to do the same for principals.It just makes so much more sense to talk about things rationally, instead of keeping those things that are bothering you bottled up inside. Thank you for the post!
    -Sean
    http://whatleyseanedm310.blogspot.com/

  2. Mary

    Back when I was in high school, I was a captain of my school’s J.R.O.T.C.’s drill team. I had been on the team two years before I became captain and had my own ideas about how to make the team better than it had ever been before. These ideas were supposed to help create a more unified team, teach the new members how to carry on our team’s legacy, and make us the best team at every competition. However, my great ideas did not make it out of my head and onto the practice field the way I had planned. The three topics that you mention in your blog are the main reasons my ideas did not work out with my team, along with other very dramatic issues.

    First, there were some bitter feelings about the choice of captain. These feelings were never verbalized, at least to me, but they were definitely seen in another teammate’s actions. So, when I finally addressed her and all the other girls on the team my many flaws, according to that one girl, were revealed in a very spiteful and disrespectful tone. It was very apparent that this issue of jealousy could not be worked out because in her mind she should have been captain. This made it difficult for everyone to move forward in creating a better team.

    After this situation some of the team members became either too worried about hurting feelings or did not care about offending anyone at all. It was very chaotic to say the least. But, my team eventually pulled through because most of us realized the only way to progress was to speak our minds in a mature and respectful manor.

    Being a captain that year really did affect how I saw myself and how I saw my team. When you are in a leadership position be it a teacher, coach, or principal the pressure is constantly on high. You are not only worried about how you look but how your subordinates look as well. You are held responsible! Your name will either be lifted high or spat on throughout history based on how you acted and how you led your team, class, or faculty.

    As you probably know by now, your blog really hit home with me. This experience will stay with me and I know will help me deal with teachers, parents, students, and people in general. It is important to understand even though you make the attempt to address issues in a responsible manor, others are going to put up barriers and will purposefully make the communication process difficult.

    I hope the rest of the book was as enjoyable as the first 25 pages. Let me know what you thought of the rest!

    Sincerely,
    Mary Bishop
    http://bishopmaryedm310.blogspot.com/
    Or Tweet me @ninjobishop

  3. This is an excellent reflection about Difficult Conversations. I’m not surprised that someone in the business world wrote this book. People in the business world must have difficult conversations. Sometimes it happens every day. Donald Trump comes to mind and his ability and willingness to fire people who are not doing a good enough job. Business people are better at separating the human emotion from the conversation and focus on the work and the result that is desired. When that happens the project is strengthened.
    This can be a great lesson for teachers. I think teachers are great at practicing difficult conversations in the lounge. In fact, I think teachers practice and practice and practice the difficult conversations. It is time for teachers to take the next step. Put all the practice into action. Have the difficult conversations with the people that can make a difference and ,in the end, the results will be strengthened.
    I have had a few difficult conversations with teachers. It’s never fun but I do not regret any of them. When my son was in the third grade, I had a difficult conversation with his teacher. My son, Anthony, had forgotten to bring a paper home for my signature. The consequences that he endured for forgetting to bring it home were, in my opinion, too harsh. When I saw the assignment the next day, it was very well done. But, he had received an “academic notice”, missed recess, and a 0 on the assignment. I asked her politely and respectfully to rethink the consequences. She did.
    Teachers and parents need to remember that they are partners in education. No matter how the difficult conversations are initiated,they must be able to happen. Thank you for the post. It has been enlightening.
    Tricia Spafford

    Tweet me: @momspafford

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