difficult conversations 101

These days, I’m having many difficult conversations on a daily basis.  The nature of my work calls for it.  Sometimes it’s with faculty and sometimes it’s with students.  (Other times, it’s with  myself – but that’s a whole other story.)  Many people have been asking me how I like my new work – being acting associate chair, which means handling student relations (complaints and concerns), assisting faculty with difficult students and situations, reporting on students of concern, and etc.  Usually in that question is the assumption that my work must be horrible. 

Sure, some days it’s pretty heavy-duty stuff that I deal with.  Some days I do go home thinking that I know too much about these people who walk around our campus – more than I really want to know. 

However, most days, I’m fine.  I feel fairly confident in my ability to handle these conversations with faculty and students.  Part of this is also knowing that there are reliable and effective procedures and processes in place at the departmental and institutional level, which gives me assurance that I’m not working in a vacuum. 

And so in the last few months, I’ve learned this main thing:

If I listen – I mean REALLY listen – and respond with diplomacy and honesty (easier said than done), I can get my message across without hurting the other person’s feelings or ruining our relationship. The key is genuinely apologizing for the hurtful role that I may have played, genuinely praising the other person for the good role that they played, and clearly proposing a solution that is fair.

I believe this works in all kinds of relationships that involve reasonable people.

(Of course, when you involve UNreasonable people, you gotta bust out some other tools… like your claws.  When dealing with UNreasonable people, then all bets are off.)


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