If you want to be an administrator, expect to be engaged in uncomfortable conversations. All the time…every day…several times a day, in fact!
Your life as a principal is basically one ginormous uncomfortable conversation (I’m not sure ginormous is actually a word, but remember…my blog…and it certainly drives the point home).
It would be hard for me to pick some favorites from my career. Would it be the conversation with the teacher who smelled so bad every day the students complained about him? Perhaps it would be the conversation with the parent whose child was not going to walk across the stage for graduation due to a failed final exam? Ah,…maybe it was the time I had to have a post-conference with a teacher who never received anything but a “highly effective” rating from any other administrator in her 9-year career, and I was the first to dare tell her she “needed improvement.” Most likely, only because it was a two-for-one special, it would be the high school sophomore who chose little old me to be the very first to know she was pregnant,…and wished for me to be the one to tell her parents!
So what did I learn? I learned to be matter-of-fact, but sensitive. I also learned to plan the conversations as best I could. The unplanned, uncomfortable conversation always tended to not go as well as I had hoped. High emotions and tension had a tendency to derail the proper message and demeanor. So I learned how to make sure I prepared myself for several different responses. Of course, at first I was not smart enough, nor experienced enough, to plan them for success. So I did what every good new administrator does,…asked other administrators. Their insights and experience helped, and I actually found that they almost always had similar experiences to draw from,…except for the pregnant student and her parents. I was a lone wolf on that one. I did get the good advice, however, to let the nurse handle the parents with the student,…
There are many different books on how to have a difficult conversation. There’s Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most by Doug Stone, and Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work and in Life, One Conversation at a Time by Susan Scott. Of course, there is Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When the Stakes Get High by Kerry Patterson (my favorite). Read them. Read them all. They will help you plan well.
Here’s the best part about being adept at crucial conversations: You will need those skills to handle the most sensitive of topics when people are distraught. Your expert handling of those situations will help you comfort people, as well as allow you to build a trusting, honest, and caring environment for your staff and students. What’s more important than that?
In about 5 years (after doing it all the time, every day, several times a day,…) you will get soooo good at it that you will be able to write your own book. But you probably won’t. You’ll be too busy discussing with a board member that his son just got cut from the Baseball team…