How to Handle Difficult Conversations as a School Leader

Difficult conversations are a tough but necessary part of being a principal or school leader, and that’s why we’re compiling this list of strategies and tips that show how to handle difficult conversations as a school leader.

Plus, it was the topic of conversation in our recent #822chat, and some brilliant principals and school leaders chimed in!

If you’re like most school leaders, you’ll find that challenging conversations tend to come at you from every angle and at the most inopportune times.

Being equipped to stay calm, listen with empathy, and respond strategically is essential for effective school leadership.

How to Prepare for Difficult Conversations

Aubrey Patterson suggests to, “Always, always, always write a script. I have a 60-second opening statement I used based upon Fierce Conversations * training from years ago.”

(*Paid Link, link to the recommended book at Amazon)

Principals aren’t the only ones who have difficult conversations in schools. Teachers have them all the time with each other, with parents, and with students.

Kellie Bahri provides advice from a teacher’s point of view, “Most of my conversations are with children and colleagues. With children, it’s important to listen first. Take time to fully understand their perspective. Ask questions. Don’t rush and work towards a healthy solution. Colleagues: same thing.”

Her ideas are worth looking at again:

  • Listen First
  • Take Time
  • Fully Understand Their Perspective
  • Ask Questions
  • Don’t Rush
  • Work Towards a Healthy Solution

Common Problems

I’m sure you’ve either witnessed or been a party in difficult conversations. You’ll agree the challenges can be many, but they usually boil down to these three problems:

1. The person doesn’t hear your message
2. It gets emotional
3. No change happens

To correct or mitigate these challenges in conversations, try the strategies below.

How To Avoid Problems in Challenging Conversations

  1. Provide Structure

    Many school leaders and principals can avoid challenging conversations by keeping messages clear. It’s a bias leaders have, but we often think we’re communicating clearly when we’re not. Ask clarifying questions and check for understanding during the conversation.

  2. Emotional Management

    Teaching is by far the most emotional of professions, so emotional management for principals is critical. Learn how to manage your own emotions, and how to gauge others’ emotions. End the conversation before it becomes exhausting, and commit to continuing the conversation at another time, if needed.

  3. Trust Signals

    Be aware of non-verbal trust signals that could undermine faith in you as the leader. Trust is important in challenging conversations, and it begins with your non-verbal communication.

What does the outcome of a difficult conversation look like?

Allicia Saldana provides insight into this question, “In the simplest of terms, there is a plan of action to move forward to strive towards a goal. Depending on the conversation, some might be more happy with the course of action than others. I prefer to find common ground, but this doesn’t always happen.”

What does a successful outcome of a difficult conversation look like for you? Heather Shaw provides this list:

  • Establishing mutual understanding.
  • Getting clear on a process going forward.
  • A climate of compassion between all parties involved.
  • Everyone leaves feeling heard.
  • At a minimum, everyone has a clear understanding for why the outcome is what it is.

Your Turn

Let’s wrap up with two great book recommendations and a question.

Book Recommendations: Two books can be really helpful for educators and school leaders when facing challenging conversations: Talk It Out! and Crucial Conversations, Tools for Talking When the Stakes are High.

A Question: What ideas do you have about challenging conversations? Share your experiences or tips in the comments below or on Twitter @822tribe.

Add to this post. Leave a comment. Cancel reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.