Courageous conversations with our staff

I like people.  I also like people to like me.  So when it comes to sharing difficult news with staff about them, news that I sense is likely to be badly received, misunderstood or unwelcome; I don’t usually relish the situation.  I have, however, learned over the years that having these courageous conversations is not only character building but crucial for the development of an individual and an organisation.

This kind of news that we have to deliver to someone in our organisation can be about their character, their capability or their connection with others.  These can overlap, but the distinction is useful. 

Almost all people accept that their capability can and should be discussed.  As a principle most would also feel that any connections with staff, students or parents that aren’t working should also be addressed.  But an individual’s character is trickier.  If we make a technical error, spell a word incorrectly, forget to enter some data or miss the start of a staff briefing, we know that we will be spoken to about it.  If another member of staff is upset by something we do or say we would also recognise the right of management to address it.  But no-one really likes to be called unprofessional, unethical or immoral. 

And yet, if character education is part of the holistic development of students, then speaking to staff about the way they behave, their attitude, the language they use and their demeanour is vital.  If we really want to develop our staff, then we have a moral responsibility to help them to be the best they can be.  We owe it to them to try and help them see their potential weaknesses in all areas.

We also have a duty to others.  If we know of a situation that can affect others in our workplace: staff or pupils, then we need to do something about it. 

Adam’s Equity Theory of employee engagement makes it clear that failing to address these issues has a serious impact on other employees too.  They see the inappropriate behaviour, attitude or language; they dislike it and if it is not addressed, they may wonder why they bother.

So for everyone’s sake: your own, the teacher concerned, the victim and the bystander, make a point of having courageous conversations and try to be clear, fair and kind as you conduct them.  ​

Written by:
Julian Dutnall
CEO, LIFE Education Trust

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