When we recently asked current administrators “What keeps you up at night?” one thing that they all mentioned was that increased community involvement brought increased (and often stressful) preparation for (or rehashing of) difficult conversations.
Many times, going into a difficult conversation – whether it be with parents, colleagues, students, or community members – you prepare yourself with talking points as if you are preparing for a debate. If you indeed do have the conversation – you might “hear” the “other side,” but you hear it through your own filters, or you may jump the gun, anticipating points and in an effort to make your points and never hear the other side.
Focus on what’s right, not who is right
Without developing some kind of understanding, difficult conversations can go south very quickly. When trust and understanding fall by the wayside, outcomes become less than satisfactory. Going into a difficult conversation with the right questions rather than the right answers can help you achieve a collaborative, satisfying resolution.
Process can help
Using a variation of SCAN – Situation Appraisal – can help you prepare for difficult conversations.
Step 1 See the issues: set the stage for a conversation rather than a debate by setting the tone and purpose and demonstrate neutrality – ask questions like these to get their perspective:
e.g., “Can you tell me what your concerns are?” “What do you see as the real problem?
Listen for information: feelings, concerns, fears, goals, “words behind words.”
End Result: Building TRUST
Step 2 clarify – ask questions that will help you separate opinions from facts, listen intently, clarify similarities and differences identify common ground.
e.g., “What do you mean by?” “Can you explain so I understand?”
Listen for similarities and differences and identify common ground.
End Result: You’re on the same page!
Step 3 Determine priorities-use common ground to develop “musts” to drive solutions.
e.g., “what is the most serious of your concerns?” “What concerns can either of us put aside for the time being?” “If we don’t address this concern what could be the consequences?”
End Result: “MUSTs” are agreed upon
Step 4 determine solution and plan for success: Develop a collaborative action plan (with built-in monitoring)
e.g., “How would you suggest we resolve this?” “What significantly is impacting getting the job done?”
“Can we make a timeline for project completion?” “If we don’t do something, what are the consequences?”
End Result: An agreement owned by all
Difficult conversations that are not managed well—either avoided or not resolved—result in unsatisfactory resolutions. The SCAN process can help you ensure stakeholder input with defensible conclusions and solutions with clear rationale. Proactive planning for the difficult conversations that lie ahead can give you and your constituents increased understanding and satisfaction with actions needed.