Tough Conversations

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Tough conversations are never easy.

Often times we avoid them like the plague. I know I’d count myself in that category. I hate conflict and would rather see everyone just get along.

Through five years of teaching I’ve learned to accept that tough conversations are not only a part of the profession, but are at times very necessary. As educators we all care deeply about the relationships around us. We desire to maintain strong, healthy relationships with our teaching peers, parents, and students. Tough conversations are a necessary part in maintaining these ‘healthy’ relationships.

Tough conversations can shockingly, if approached with the right mindset, be good for the relationships we nurture. Below are a few reasons we must allow space for these tough conversations that can FUEL positive growth in the relationships we deeply care about:

  • Tough Conversations Can Foster Trust:

I don’t know about the rest of the world, but I am a poor mind reader. I often fail at predicting what others are thinking and feeling. Therefore, as I approach tough conversations I recognize I must be an attentive listener and truly care less about the immediate situation and more about the person in front of me.

Trust is built on a sense of mutual understanding. Being understanding is not the same as agreeing with the choices made or a potential resolution to the situation and navigating the two has proven to be tricky for me in the past. Allowing space to hear their perspective will bridge trust and allow for the next steps to reach fruition.

  • Tough Conversations Can Usher Change:

When the bridging of trust has occurred we can begin to have a more open, and hopefully, frank conversation about where to go from here. Its easy to forget that change is often a two-way street. We are at the crossroads here because of choices made by the person I care about and the choices I in turn have also made.

As Stephen Covey writes in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, seek the Win-Win in any resolution that is reached at the end of the conversation. Try to not settle for just compromises. Change is hard, but it’s a whole lot easier to do it together.

  • Tough Conversations Can Energize Growth:

Knowing that someone cares, loves, appreciates, and invests in us enough to have healthy, tough conversations can be the fuel that energizes growth beyond that conversation. I remember back to my 10th Grade Honors English Teacher, Ms. Solis.

My first nine weeks I had a grade of a C-. I won’t hide my deep disappointment and I felt that I was producing the best essays of my brief high school career; certainly they deserved more than the Cs and Ds I was earning.

I scheduled an appointment to discuss my grades. During that meeting she allowed me to explain my feelings about the grades. Looking back I won’t forget how gracious she was. I tried to explain that I was just a 15 year old and the level of writing she was asking for was frankly too much. Ms. Solis’ simple response, “Why would I lower my expectations of you, when I know you have the ability to do better? Wouldn’t you like to know you earned the A rather than just being given it?”

She provided further direction upon her feedback and provided the opportunity to rewrite and receive additional feedback, but she was specific that no further points would be awarded. I won’t lie, I left disappointed.

Yet, at the same time deep inside I knew she was right. These may have been some the best works I had written, but they were also done at the last minute, the night before. Crunch time was the best time, I told myself. I work best under stress and a deadline. Yet, it left my writing clearly missing stronger connections and deeper analysis. Ms. Solis had twenty plus years of teaching under her belt and now as a teacher myself I see she could recognize I was not putting forth my fullest and best effort.

Ms. Solis saw my potential, now I wanted to see it in myself. Last nine-weeks of the year I finished with a A-. I know it was deserved because I committed to giving my writing the fullness of attention it deserved. I sought her feedback well before the due date and kept at improving my grammatical knowledge.

That tough conversation about grades became the energizer behind my growth as a writer and her words still echo in my writing process today. I’m blessed she was willing to engage in that conversation and not back down in her belief of me!

  • Tough Conversations Can Lift Others:

Finally, when done with love and grace; tough conversations can and should lift others up. Our hope in any tough conversation, is that the ones we care and love are never felt beaten down by our words, but uplifted to pursue the greatness we know they are capable of. So, therefore, let us choose our words and outward expressions to best reflect those aspirations.

I won’t dare say that this will be the result of each tough conversation. Actually, some will go south real fast (I too can testify to this); but our failure to try will cause more long-term harm to those relationships we most care about. Tough conversations that will lift others must happen face-to-face because far too often email, phone calls, or text can cause misconstructions of our heart and intent.

If we allow them too, tough conversations can FUEL our relationships and ensure that they remain healthy and growth oriented long into the future. Let us see these conversations less as burdens and more as opportunities to foster trust, usher change, energize growth, and above all lift others!

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