Got an impossible difficult conversation? – no difficult conversation is impossible, we’ve not had one we can’t fix yet.

We’ve not found a difficult conversation we haven’t been able to fix yet. In fact, I’m looking for it.

Here are three scenarios that felt impossible to the people we were working with but were fixed in very few conversations (and without capability or court).

How to get through when someone doesn’t think there is a problem with their performance 

Del’s teaching required improvement, however, he thought he was good or better. Various members of the school’s leadership team had given Del feedback about his teaching and they had tried everything you could think of! 

In one feedback meeting, when trying to get him to understand his marking required improvement and Del didn’t agree, insisting it was good, they went with him to his books to look at the marking so that they were both dealing with really concrete evidence. The message still didn’t get through. 

We worked with the Head who was then able to approach this exceptionally difficult conversation in a new way, hoping to move Del from an almost ‘ignorance is bliss’ state to understanding the problem, as kindly as possible. 

How did it go? Del took the message on board this time and, although he was initially down, worried, and scared, he moved through those emotions to a place where he was able to accept the school’s support. He started to improve his teaching – something he wasn’t able to do until he accepted there was a problem.

A teacher who doesn’t seem to want to be at your school but isn’t going anywhere 

Ann was a class teacher who delivered ‘ok’ lessons, but didn’t seem to have her heart in it. She was previously outstanding but sadly not anymore: she lacked warmth with the children, seemed to put minimal effort into her lessons, hadn’t made much progress on her performance objectives and seemed to be doing the absolute minimum she could with her subject leadership. The Head Pete, knew he needed to speak to her. 

Through the training, Pete realised the real conversation wasn’t about the quality of her teaching, the lack of progress on her annual objectives, or subject leadership. It was actually about an overarching feeling these things had led to: that Ann didn’t want to be at this school. Whilst it would have been easier to talk about any one of these, he recognised that the conversation needed to be about the whole picture if it was to tackle the real issue. 

On meeting with Ann Pete shared his thoughts, using the skills and techniques he had learnt: ‘Ann, I’m concerned about the quality of your teaching, your work as a subject leader, the lack of progress in your development objectives and these things have come together to paint a picture which is that I’m not sure you want to be here.’ 

I know this is a pretty tough sentence, and the written word doesn’t do it justice, because the delivery is what can, and did, show Pete cared. Ann’s head dropped; the message had got through, which meant that she and Pete could talk about the specific issues which led him to think this and he could offer several types of support to help. Ann’s teaching improved: she was much warmer with the children, more involved with them during her lessons and she really started to drive her subject forward. 

When asked what specifically made the conversation a success Pete says it was the skills he’d learnt on how to say what the issue was and share that issue so clearly and kindly.

You’ve spent a year asking for the same thing and still not got it

The ground hog day conversation. You keep asking for something and it never materialises. We’ve come across this kind of conversation many times, with Jeff it was  about some mandatory paperwork he needed one member of his team to give him. 

He’d had the conversation many times, was sure he’d been clear and was now tearing his hair out about how to get it – after all this was mandatory paperwork that was required, not internal paperwork that was requested.

We trained him on the ‘Core Skills for successful difficult conversations’ and we worked on this conversation.

He had the conversation the same week. He had it at 9am. By 5pm he had everything he had been asking for all year. 

Result? We think so and so did Jeff!

If you’d like to discuss how we can help your team have successful difficult conversations, please contact our Customer Success Manager, Nisha: nisha@ukheadsup.com.

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