Children, especially young ones, are masters of difficult conversations. Why? Because they don’t have to abide by the same set of “rules” adults do. Many adults struggle to say “the right thing.” We also tend to waffle, euphemize and skirt confrontations because we don’t want to hurt the other person. Kids…oh no, not them. When they don’t like something or find it dull, they have no qualms about telling us all about it. Adults don’t have it so easy.
Difficult conversations and teaching are a package deal and because of that, we’d like to offer a few tips to help you take the “difficult” out of difficult conversations.
Making Difficult Conversations Less Difficult: 5 Tips for Teachers
Figure out what you want—and be willing to bend when you don’t get it
Have you ever watched that History Channel show Pawn Stars? It’s a reality show that takes place in a family-owned, Las Vegas pawn shop. After about five minutes, you’ll have a sense for how pawning works: The first thing the pawn shop clerk asks the seller is “What do you want for it?” If the seller doesn’t name a price, the negotiation ends before it even begins.
Herein lies the lesson: You can’t have a conversation or negotiate unless you not only know what you want, but are also willing to bend a little.
Be emotionally present
It’s absolutely true that we should be calm and collected before we have a difficult conversation, but that doesn’t mean that we have to leave emotions at the front door. To the contrary, difficult conversations become less difficult when we are emotionally present—or in other words, when we are just as in tune with our own feelings and experiences as we are with those of the other person. It’s a tired cliché, but if we truly want to break down barriers, we have to walk in the other person’s shoes.
No more blaming
Conversations often become difficult because we focus our energy in the wrong place: assigning blame. Blame is a lot like truth with a capital “T”: everyone has his or her own version of it and talking in absolutes produces little more than disagreement, denial and frustration.
People don’t like to be blamed, especially when they are—or feel—wrongly accused. Instead of blaming, find a way to talk about how, where and when things went wrong. Then figure out how you might correct them in the future.
Don’t presume that you understand the intentions of others
When we start talking about intentions, we immediately enter murky territory. We can’t speak for you, but most of the folks we’ve met can’t read minds, which means that the intentions of others are usually unclear. Don’t presume that you know why people do what they do or say what they say. Intentions are complex and making unfounded assumptions about them is a surefire way to sour a healthy conversation.
Do not split your attention
Most of us have had a spellbinding conversation. Maybe it was with a spouse, partner or friend. What were you doing during this conversation? You probably weren’t fidgeting in your seat or glancing at your phone. Real conversations require both parties to be fully present, both mentally and physically.