Alright, I admit, I don’t enjoy conflict any more than you do; my heart pumps harder, my palms get sweaty, I can feel my voice wobble and I worry terribly that I’m going to upset the other person and risk doing some irreparable damage. But I know that conflict is good, at least healthy conflict is, and it is a necessary part of life as a leader (and of life in my opinion).
But we’re human, right? And so we avoid conflict – it’s totally natural to – but this means there are a lot of ‘issues’ we can have left unresolved, some are big elephants in the room, some are like little rocks. Imagine for every issue you have with someone – it might be that they were rude to you, looked miserable when you asked them to do something, it might be that they drain your energy through their negativity, it might even be that they don’t wash their cup up – imagine that issue is a little rock which you put in a rucksack on your back. Each new issue is another rock, which you pick up and put in your rucksack; it’s not going to be long until your rucksack is weighing you down.
When I’m training a group of school leaders on how to have successful difficult conversations, I often start the day asking them to ‘Put your hand up if you like conflict’ and so far no-one has. By the end of the day, they certainly feel better equipped to have it and, when I follow up with them a few weeks later, they are often delighted at the weight that has been lifted off their shoulders (like a big rock has been taken off) since they had the difficult conversation they needed to.
Top tip: Try to take the perspective that in having a difficult conversation, you and the other person are not both picking up a rock to put on your rucksack, that in fact you are going through a rocky part of a journey to a smoother, happier place.
About the Author
Sonia Gill is founder of Heads Up, specialising in supporting Head Teachers and School Leaders create an outstanding school culture. https://ukheadsup.com