Sometimes, tough conversations have to happen. During my principal endorsement courses, I read the book "Fierce Conversations" by Susan Scott. Various elements of that book stuck with me during the formative years of my leadership training. A few years ago, I had the opportunity to be trained as a "Fierce Conversation" trainer. That's when things clicked.
"The conversation is the relationship."
When things aren't going as planned, I stop and reflect on what is happening. Most often than not, I realize that I have stopped the conversation. Although there is a honeymoon period for every new job, I felt mine at North High School lasted longer than normal. Needless to say, it ended. During that time I thought deeply on "what happened?" I immediately looked outward and pondered why the staff changed? What was their problem? Then it hit me. I no longer focused on the conversation. Thus, the relationship I was building with the staff started to fade. Our relationship lives in the conversations we are having.
"Let silence do the heavy lifting"
Tough conversations aren't easy. We often don't know what to say. Once I learned that I didn't have to fill the silence with talking, conversations became easier. We have all had those conversations where we didn't know what to say. Sometimes, we filled the silence with whatever spewed out of our mouths. Often, that gets us into trouble. Alternatively, think of a time a family member or friend just needed you around. No words were spoken but the silence said volumes. The same concept applies to our most difficult conversations. Silence can be awkward and uncomfortable. However, when we let silence do the heavy lifting, the person we ware having a conversation with will often be the first to break the silence and begin the process of facing the consequences or reality of the conversation.
"Tackle your toughest challenge today"
Since we don't like uncomfortable conversations, we often put them off. We "don't want to ruin our day." The question is, "Do we ruin our days by not tackling our biggest obstacle right now?" Yes. One of the quotes used by Fierce Conversations from Annie Dillard is "How we spend our days is how we spend our lives." Nothing could be more true when it comes to the conversations that we need to and must have. When we put off those conversations because of fear, we continue to hold back an improved reality. Think of how great life would be if "that" conversation was had today? Yes, it will make your stomach ache. Yes you can't predict how the other person will respond. What you will know is that you cared enough about the relationship to have the conversation.
I hate tough conversations. I don't like telling adults they aren't meeting expectations. I hate telling parents their son or daughter got in trouble. I hate telling people they didn't get the job. I hate telling people they are losing their job. However, I care enough about them to have the conversation.
Ryan Dumkrieger is the principal of Sioux City North High School.