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Free article: Improving teacher recruitment and retention: part 1 Free article: Get ready to win strategic school improvement funding Reputation management for schools Experience shared: Effective mentoring Tackling bullying in schools - part one Aggression at work: Managing yourself and others Managing difficult conversations The art of influence: Creating the best outcome Change management and conflict Managing anxiety at work Interpreting data for 2017 performance Free article: Know your strengths Free article: Developing an ethos of high expectation Achieving an ‘Outstanding’ Grade: Focused on Excellence Free article: Governors: The competency framework Free article: HR and the successful school: A case study Free article: Leading the way to outstanding learner progress Free article: Attainment and progress: The Rochford Review Free article: How to create a leadership team that drives school improvement Free article: Prioritising the budget for school improvement Free article: Transforming a failing school Free article: Evaluating alternative and specially resourced provision Free article: Taking a school-wide approach to mental health and wellbeing Free article: The latest developments in education - January 2016 Free article: Managing uncertainty Free article: Pupil voice as an evaluation technique Free article: The latest developments in education - September 2016 Free article: Deconstructing Ofsted: Reflection after inspection Free article: MAT expansion: Don’t let school improvement become a casualty Free article: Ten rules for outstanding leaders Free article: The governing body as a critical friend Free article: Developing an ethos of high expectations Free article: The exam post-mortem Free article: Safeguarding: Everyone’s responsibility Free article: How do inspectors make the judgement about overall effectiveness? The Ofsted model Free article: Effective leadership builds effective teams Free article: Baseline assessment and SEND Free article: Deconstructing the link between SEND and poverty Free article: Making performance management count in school improvement Free article: Joining or setting up a multi-academy trust Free article: Case study from Carlton Bolling College: Ensuring high-quality governance Free article: Using pupil voice to support school evaluation Free article: What are the signs of a good school improvement service adviser? Free article: Headteachers’ appraisal Free article: Making CPD work harder Free article: Using the Framework for governance Free article: Interpreting the inspection dashboard Free article: The government's Prevent guidance Free article: Improving provision for the most able Free article: Personal development, behaviour and welfare Free article: Is there a mental health crisis in our schools? Free article: Evaluating the effectiveness of assessment Free article: Actively promoting fundamental British values Free article: Raising boys’ achievement Free article: National standards of excellence for headteachers Free article: Governors and the inspection interview Free article: Monitoring and coaching through lesson observation Free article: CPD: Less measurement and more development Free article: Challenging 
the most able Free article: Using the teachers’ standards as a framework for CPD and accountability Free article: Managing behaviour outside the classroom Free article: Managing pupils’ behaviour in lessons Free article: Keeping Children Safe Statutory Guidance Free article: Four steps to school improvement Free article: Finding a way through the jungle: The essence of leadership Free article: How to audit your whole-school literacy provision Free article: Professional development: the growing case for evidence Free article: Getting personal  with CPD Free article: Making performance appraisal an objective and helpful process Free article: Parent View — an update Free article: Raising pupil achievement through parental engagement: a practical approach Free article: Effective parental engagement

Free article: Improving teacher recruitment and retention: part 1

In the first part of a two-part article, Matt Bromley looks at ways to improve teacher recruitment and retention.

Free article: Get ready to win strategic school improvement funding

How do you make a successful bid for a slice of the government’s Strategic School Improvement Fund? Best Practice Network’s Liam Donnison asks two school leaders who have done so…

Reputation management for schools

PLMR’s Sam Dalton talks about how schools can manage reputational impact when a crisis hits.

Experience shared: Effective mentoring

Steve Burnage explores the professional development potential of a productive and focused mentoring relationship from the perspective of the mentor.

Tackling bullying in schools - part one

Bullying is defined as: ‘Behaviour by an individual or group, usually repeated over time, that intentionally hurts another individual or group either physically or emotionally’. This article looks at the…

Aggression at work: Managing yourself and others

Conflict management is a vital skill for managers. Schools have clear policies on managing aggression in the classroom and playground. In this article Louise Wingrove looks at dealing with it…

Managing difficult conversations

Some conversations are always going to be uncomfortable. In this article, Louise Wingrove looks at managing difficult subjects with care and confidence.

The art of influence: Creating the best outcome

Louise Wingrove looks at how being aware of your impact on others can help everybody get what they need.

Change management and conflict

Nazli Hussein looks at the causes of conflict and the best ways to deal with it, with the best outcomes for those involved.

Managing anxiety at work

With growing awareness about anxiety and the impact it can have on both pupils and members of staff, Louis Wingrove looks at some ways to tackle the problem in the…

Interpreting data for 2017 performance

Tony Powell looks at the three different ways that a school’s academic performance is evaluated.

Free article: Know your strengths

Can you make inspection an enriching learning process that is actually good for your school? Heather Clements of Best Practice Network offers some advice. 

Free article: Developing an ethos of high expectation

In this article, Steve Burnage shares some practical strategies to enable school leaders to develop an ethos of high expectation in their schools. 

Achieving an ‘Outstanding’ Grade: Focused on Excellence

Tony Powell outlines a step-by-step approach to support schools in achieving the accolade of ‘outstanding’ as defined by Ofsted.

Free article: Governors: The competency framework

Tony Powell looks at the changes to governance in the DfE publication A competency framework for governance.

Free article: HR and the successful school: A case study

Adrian Kneeshaw, Headteacher of Carlton Bolling College, gives a personal viewpoint of the benefits of bringing in the experts.

Free article: Leading the way to outstanding learner progress

Steve Burnage discusses engaging with good practice in the leadership of teaching and learning.

Free article: Attainment and progress: The Rochford Review

Tony Powell reports on the findings of the final Rochford Review.

Free article: How to create a leadership team that drives school improvement

A high-performing leadership team is at the centre of any school improvement mission. But how do you go about creating an excellent SLT? Colin McLean of Best Practice Network asks…

Free article: Prioritising the budget for school improvement

Adrian Kneeshaw of Carlton Bolling school gives advice on how to focus school spending on improvement planning.

Free article: Transforming a failing school

Matt Bromley offers some advice on turning around an underperforming school in a short space of time while laying down the foundations for sustainable improvement.

Free article: Evaluating alternative and specially resourced provision

Tony Powell explains how inspectors gather evidence and make judgements on the quality of alternative and specially resourced provision.

Free article: Taking a school-wide approach to mental health and wellbeing

With concerns about mental health rising, what can schools do to help their pupils? Suzanne O’Connell outlines the advice available from the National Children’s Bureau and how it might be…

Free article: The latest developments in education - January 2016

Suzanne O’Connell provides a look at what’s currently being discussed, debated and determined in the world of education.

Free article: Managing uncertainty

If you are struggling with a sense of uncertainty, be reassured: you are not alone. 2016 has been a year of upheaval, with the promise of big changes on the…

Free article: Pupil voice as an evaluation technique

Tony Powell provides guidance on how to use discussion with pupils as a tool for self-evaluation.

Free article: The latest developments in education - September 2016

Suzanne O’Connell provides a look at what’s currently being discussed, debated and determined in the world of education.

Free article: Deconstructing Ofsted: Reflection after inspection

Tony Powell looks at how to use the feedback from your inspection in school improvement planning.

Free article: MAT expansion: Don’t let school improvement become a casualty

How can an expanding multi-academy trust ensure that school improvement doesn’t become a casualty of change? Colin McLean of Best Practice Network looks at the issue and offers some guidance.

Free article: Ten rules for outstanding leaders

Adrian Kneeshaw looks at how leadership is important to the success of the school, and how to lead effectively.

Free article: The governing body as a critical friend

In his second article on the headteacher and governor relationship, Tony Powell defines what is meant by a ‘critical friend’.

Free article: Developing an ethos of high expectations

Steve Burnage shares some practical strategies to enable school leaders to develop an ethos of high expectations in their schools.

Free article: The exam post-mortem

Matt Bromley considers how schools can learn from exam performance data and build this into school improvement.

Free article: Safeguarding: Everyone’s responsibility

With new safeguarding guidance released, it’s time to check your arrangements and update your staff.

Free article: How do inspectors make the judgement about overall effectiveness? The Ofsted model

This article outlines the Ofsted methodology for determining whether a school is ‘outstanding’, ‘good’, ‘requires improvement’ or ‘inadequate’.

Free article: Effective leadership builds effective teams

Steve Burnage offers advice on motivating staff, getting the best from them and building effective teams.

Free article: Baseline assessment and SEND

Suzanne O’Connell looks at a report on baseline assessment in primary schools and it’s affect on identifying children with SEND.

Free article: Deconstructing the link between SEND and poverty

DfE statistics show a clear link between SEND and children living in poverty. Suzanne O’Connell outlines some of the reasons for this, and recommendations for action, in a Joseph Rowntree…

Free article: Making performance management count in school improvement

What do you need to do to make performance management a watertight process that makes a real contribution to school improvement? Keith Wright has some suggestions.

Free article: Joining or setting up a multi-academy trust

Tony Stephens, of the Co-operative Academies Trust, looks at what is the best type of multi-academy trust for a school to join or establish.

Free article: Case study from Carlton Bolling College: Ensuring high-quality governance

Adrian Kneeshaw, Headteacher of Carlton Bolling, gives a personal take on renewing a failing governing body having designed and built one from scratch.

Free article: Using pupil voice to support school evaluation

David Birch explains how capturing the views of students can sharpen school self-evaluation and have a positive impact on your school improvement strategies.

Free article: What are the signs of a good school improvement service adviser?

Frank Norris offers advice on how to choose the most appropriate school improvement partner to work with your school.

Free article: Headteachers’ appraisal

David Birch outlines best practice in the management of the headteacher appraisal process and offers advice for headteachers on how to make the most of appraisal in their own professional development.

Free article: Making CPD work harder

Professional development is a crucial factor in school improvement and improving pupil outcomes, but it could work harder, says Keith Wright.

Free article: Using the Framework for governance

Tony Powell looks at how the Framework for governance can be used to clarify the strategic direction of your school.

Free article: Interpreting the inspection dashboard

There is a new inspection dashboard to go with Ofsted's new Common inspection framework. Tony Powell explains how it can be used.

Free article: The government's Prevent guidance

Suzanne O'Connell considers the guidance available regarding Prevent and school leaders' responsibilities.

Free article: Improving provision for the most able

Ofsted reports are making it clear. The DfE wants to see secondary schools challenging their most able students. In this article, Suzanne O’Connell summarises the criticisms and recommendations from ‘The…

Free article: Personal development, behaviour and welfare

Tony Powell looks at the new key area ‘personal development, behaviour and welfare’ under the new Ofsted inspection framework.

Free article: Is there a mental health crisis in our schools?

The mental health of children and young people is at the top of the agenda at the moment. Increased anxiety, self-harm and eating disorders are bringing some schools to crisis…

Free article: Evaluating the effectiveness of assessment

Tony Powell interprets government guidance on assessment to help schools support self-evaluation.

Free article: Actively promoting fundamental British values

Tony Powell advises on how schools can demonstrate that they are actively promoting fundamental British values.

Free article: Raising boys’ achievement

John Viner looks at research into boys’ underachievement and reviews some successful strategies.

Free article: National standards of excellence for headteachers

Tony Powell looks at the revised national standards for headteachers and how they should be used by schools.

Free article: Governors and the inspection interview

Tony Powell discusses how to prepare governors in advance for an inspection interview.

Free article: Monitoring and coaching through lesson observation

John Viner explores ways to develop a culture of continual improvement in teaching through lesson observation.

Free article: CPD: Less measurement and more development

How can schools translate CPD into genuine improvement for staff? Keith Wright asked leaders to share their views, and discovered an emerging consensus about which approaches work best.

Free article: Challenging 
the most able

Tony Powell looks at how to identify the most able pupils, and the key factors that enable the brightest pupils to achieve.

Free article: Using the teachers’ standards as a framework for CPD and accountability

Tony Powell looks at how the teachers’ standards can be used to evaluate performance and support improvement.

Free article: Managing behaviour outside the classroom

Since January 2014 there has been increased emphasis on the behaviour of pupils. In this article, Jim Donnelly offers advice on managing behaviour around the school.

Free article: Managing pupils’ behaviour in lessons

David Birch offers advice on effective classroom management and argues that effective practice relies on a combination of the consistent application of agreed policy and the development of awareness and…

Free article: Keeping Children Safe Statutory Guidance

This is statutory guidance, which means that schools and colleges (including academies and free schools) must have regard to it. It contains what schools should do and what they must…

Free article: Four steps to school improvement

School improvement is a complex recipe that takes time to perfect. Keith Wright looks at some of the key barriers to school improvement and suggests strategies and systems to overcome…

Free article: Finding a way through the jungle: The essence of leadership

Louise Wingrove gives practical advice on how to become a leader your team will want to follow.

Free article: How to audit your whole-school literacy provision

Given that whole-school literacy is central to raising standards of achievement in schools and that it is a key focus for Ofsted, David Birch outlines some of the actions schools…

Free article: Professional development: the growing case for evidence

Teachers are good at gathering evidence of pupil progress, but many find it difficult to do the same with regard to their own professional development.  Keith Wright looks at the…

Free article: Getting personal with CPD

Less than a fifth of teachers in England’s schools think their continuing profession development (CPD) is any good, according to a recent survey. One of the keys to unlocking the…

Free article: Making performance appraisal an objective and helpful process

Performance appraisal is crucial to school improvement, but many schools are still without a rigorous and transparent way of carrying it out, says Keith Wright. Here, he analyses the challenges…

Free article: Parent View — an update

Jenny Townsend looks at the importance of Parent View in achieving an outstanding rating in inspection, and how comments from parents are used by Ofsted.

Free article: Raising pupil achievement through parental engagement: a practical approach

Jenny Townsend explores how parental engagement can contribute to school improvement and in particular the role this can play in raising pupil achievement levels.

Free article: Effective parental engagement

Ofsted’s Parent View means that parents have a direct influence on the decision to inspect. Jenny Townsend examines why this matters to schools.

Managing difficult conversations

Published: Thursday, 22 March 2018

Some conversations are always going to be uncomfortable. In this article, Louise Wingrove looks at managing difficult subjects with care and confidence.

Summary

  • Be sure what your objectives are.
  • Be clear what information you are trying to convey.
  • Remember that individuals can react differently to the same information.
  • Use detailed information to deliver your message.

One of the key responsibilities of an SBM is to represent the needs of your school and to ensure that your team is performing to a high standard. So, sooner or later you will probably need to have a ‘difficult conversation’.

To give yourself a greater chance of success there are a number of things you can do to prepare for the discussion.

Mindset and objectives

Be clear about your objectives:

  • What are you trying to achieve from your conversation?
  • What are the most important points that the other person needs to understand?

Go in with a positive mindset. Manage your inner voice, the one that says, ‘I won’t cope with X’s reaction’ and, ‘What if I get tongue tied?’ Research shows that our inner voice has a powerful impact on our overall confidence, performance and success. Turn your negatives into positives:

  • ‘I can do this.’
  • ‘I can handle whatever reactions come my way.’
  • ‘I can clearly communicate my message.’

It is also important to manage emotions. If you need to communicate a redundancy, for example, the other person will not thank you for becoming emotional. They need you to be strong. At this point you are representing the business, so any signs of weakness can be confusing or even seen as disingenuous. At the same time, and especially if it is a friend, you may want to empathise with their situation. It is a balance between being in control and being cold and insensitive. A word of warning though, if you are empathising never say, ‘I understand how you feel', because you do not.

Dealing with other’s reactions

When you deliver a difficult message the other person can take it very personally. Even in cases of redundancy where it is the role, rather than the person, that is no longer needed by the organisation, it can feel like a personal rejection. There are four key ways in which people tend to react to difficult news:

  1. The Wall: This person shuts down, is non-responsive, avoids eye contact, and often gives one syllable answers. Collaboration and open discussion with this person is often difficult.
  2. The Victim: This person deflects blame on anything or anyone else (including you). They have emotional outbursts and feel unfairly singled out and picked on.
  3. The Attacker: This person responds by attacking, venting and unloading other issues. They can even become threatening and may try intimidation.
  4. The Escape Artist: This person will agree with everything you say and promise to correct the issue; they just want the discussion to be over.

With all these styles it is important to keep your cool and to repeat your key message, with evidence of performance, if appropriate. Think through how the other person is likely to react and what you will say and do. If emotions become difficult to deal with – excessive crying, for example – you may decide to take a few minutes out to allow you both to collect yourselves.

Be clear with your message

If it is a conversation about disciplinary issues or redundancy, you should ensure that you are following the legal framework, so always refer to your school policies or HR advisor.

Discussions about poor performance are probably the most common form of difficult conversation that you will have to have. It can be easy to get it wrong, though, especially if you use the term ‘attitude’ as part of your feedback. ‘I don’t like your attitude’ is almost certain to get a bad reaction since we never know what someone’s attitude really is – we cannot see attitude. Instead, refer to their behaviour – what they said and did. Behaviour is something that we can observe. He or she may argue with your perception of an attitude but will find it much harder to dispute something that has been observed. It is also easier to change our behaviour than who we are (or our attitude).

If you are giving feedback about poor performance then make sure you get to the point quickly. ‘I need to give you some feedback’ is a good way to start! Do not dilute your message with a long preamble.

Be specific

You should always state the when and the what.

The when

It is important to be specific about when the behaviour was observed, without seeming as if you have been recording their every move (unless you are in a disciplinary situation). For example, ‘You are always late’ is too vague and could elicit the response, ‘No I am not, I was on time all this week’. If you say, ‘You were late by 10 minutes last Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday’ you are less likely to get into a debate.

The what

Be detailed about behaviour. This is especially important when using words such as rude, aggressive and inappropriate, which are not precise enough. For example, look at the difference between these two pieces of feedback:

‘You were rude to Mr Smith.’

Rude could be open to interpretation. What is rude? The potential response could be, ‘No, I wasn’t rude’ and that could sidetrack your feedback.

‘You told Mr Smith to get lost.’

This is stating specifically what was said and you can then focus on what the person needs to do differently, rather than getting caught up in the precise definition of what constitutes rude.

Conclusion

A difficult conversation is never pleasant but can actually be beneficial to the other person. Giving feedback about poor performance, for example, can help that person to improve and ultimately keep their job or get promoted. Whatever the issue is, you need to prepare for the conversation and address it.

About the author

Louise Wingrove has been a trainer and coach for 21 years and has led training teams in companies in both the public and private sectors. She is director of training consulatncy Funky Learning (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.). 

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