Preparing for Hard Conversations

Jul 04, 2018

NAEYC has a Code of Ethics that defines how early childhood professionals can best serve children, protect the privacy of families, interact with colleagues and employers and advocate for the dignity of all races, creeds and cultures. This Code of Ethics also defines how we need to go about solving conflicts in the work place. Here’s what it says about it…

  • We have an ethical responsibility to establish and maintain relationships of respect, trust, confidentiality; collaboration and cooperation with co-workers (1-3A.1)
  • We have an ethical responsibility to employers when we have concerns about the professional behavior of a coworker we shall first let that person know of our concern in a way that shows respect for personal dignity and for the diversity to be found among staff members, and then attempt to resolve the matter collegially and in a confidential manner. (P-3A.2 Ethics and the Early Childhood Educator, 3rd edition, Stephanie Feeney and Nancy K. Freeman, NAEYC, 201)

In summary, NAEYC says we need to approach each other in a way that shows respect, dignity and to communicate with the person with who we have a conflict.

Sometimes that’s not so easy, right?? Take it from me, Miss-Avoid-Conflict-at-All-Costs-McKitrick, it’s daunting!  

I’ve learned a lot about this from Susan Scott, author of Fierce Conversations, Achieving Success at Work and in Life, One Conversation at a Time (source below). And quite honestly, my husband and I turned to this book frequently when our kids were teenagers and we had to address some really difficult issues head-on.

“A fierce conversation is one in which we come out from behind ourselves into the conversation and make it real.”

There are several steps to preparing for a conversation that gets to the root of the issue and proposes a way to work it out peacefully.  Let’s take a look at these steps…

First thing to do is find out what’s really going on. In many schools (or families, or workplaces) there’s a difference between the “official” truth – what the management thinks is going on in the classroom and what’s actually happening every day in the actions and conversations between teachers and with children and parents. Even differences between what the morning and afternoon staff are doing or what’s happening in the early morning opening hours and late evening closing hours or what new staff are told by seasoned teachers in the break room that conflicts with what they’ve learned in orientation.

So many opportunities for misunderstanding, assumption and conflict in this day-to-day life we lead!

We have a bit of a problem on our hands when the “official” truth contrasts greatly with what’s really going on at ground level.

So, ask questions. Keep an open mind as you actively LISTEN to responses. Repeat back what you’ve heard to make sure you’ve got it right. One suggestion is to “unlearn” what you think you already know about the situation so that you can hear with an open mind.

By doing this, you’ve identified and clarified the issue, which is the first step of preparation.

Next, do some thinking about it.  

  • What’s the impact of this issue?
  • How is it impacting me?
  • How is it impacting others?
  • When I think about the impact on myself and others, how do I feel about it?
  • If nothing changes, what’s likely to happen?

And then, probably the most important question to ask yourself…

How have I contributed to the problem?  (Yep, you probably have a role here… in some form or fashion.)

So, let’s look at the problem identified in our last blog – staff gossip.  

“We do have a problem. Everyone talks bad about each other. It’s like there are different cliques and they’re at war. The juiciest gossip comes from the receptionist, who tells one teacher in particular what she sees and hears from the front desk. Often times it’s conversations she’s overheard from your office. Eventually we all hear it and when it applies to me or my class, I get really mad. And it makes me feel bad and unappreciated. In fact, I’m thinking about looking for a job at another school.”  

Let’s say you’re the director at this school. Your conversations are being heard and repeated to staff members. What’s your role? Is confidentiality an expectation in the front office? Are you speaking negatively about staff or situations to someone who has no involvement – and NOT speaking to the people involved? Are you acting professionally all day every day? Are you tolerating a climate of gossip and division by not tackling it head on when it happens? Are you showing appreciation to staff for the hard, demanding work they do each day?

By reflecting on these questions and being honest with yourself, you’ll be in a better position to talk issues through in a collaborative way.

The next step in preparation is to think about the ideal outcome. When this issue is resolved, what difference will it make? What results will you, and others, enjoy? How will it bring about peace and cooperation to the climate of your school?

As you reflect on ways to resolve the issue BEFORE approaching others, consider the strongest step you could take to move the issue towards resolution. As you think about this, identify what things could get in the way of resolution. What are the potential obstacles?

This time of spent thinking through the issue and all the details surrounding it will hopefully bring clarity and understanding. At the very least it will give you some great questions to ask as you approach those involved!

Here’s a quick summary of the steps: (Print the Steps Here!)

  1. Identify the issue
  2. What’s going on? How long has it been happening? How bad is it?
  3. What’s the impact of this issue?
  4. If nothing changes, what’s likely to happen?
  5. What’s my role? How have I contributed?
  6. When it’s resolved, what difference will it make?
  7. What’s the strongest step I could take to move towards resolution?

Whew! That’s a lot to think about! But just like most issues take a while to brew, fester and rear their head, resolutions take time too.

And think of the benefits it will bring not only to your school, but the personal growth of all the people involved.

Clarity of vision will come as a result and everyone, especially children and their families, will benefit from a peaceful and respectful environment at school and work!  

On part 3 of this series, we’ll share how you can BEGIN the difficult conversation with a 60-second statement.

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And just to make sure you don’t think this is my original thought… the steps described here come from this great book, which I HIGHLY recommend to anyone who participates in human relationships!

Fierce Conversations, Achieving Success at Work and in Life, One Conversation at a Time, by Susan Scott, Fierce Conversations, Inc., 2002

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