As anyone working in secondary education knows, staff at every level have to deal with many different types of people and have a wide range of relationships to manage. The difficulty can be in knowing how to manage so many different needs, demands and expectations. What can be most challenging and stressful is managing a particularly difficult relationship.
How can we do this successfully? We are of course, all human. We all have days and times in life when things seem more challenging and it is important to remember that.
Conflict can result from a number of behaviours including unbalanced teamwork, disagreements over how to deal with particular students, and a lack of support maybe from managers or co-workers – and even self-doubt which can sometimes lead to defensiveness. In the pressured environments of schools, these feelings and behaviours are likely to be magnified.
It is important to be upfront with others when there are clear issues that need to be addressed for a better working relationship.
Increasing our understanding and improving the way that we respond to conflict can make for happier staff and happier schools. “Effective challenging” needs to steer a clear course between being too aggressive and too submissive. Some people are not very self-aware, so maybe you just need to tell them constructively what the issues are or what you need from them. We suggest:
- Asking a direct, open question: “When, how, why, what, where?”
- Giving feedback. Be honest about how a person’s behaviour or attitude is affecting others.
- Offering advice on help and the support that is available if appropriate.
- Remembering that effective challenging is a two-way street.
Also useful is being able to identify different types of people to better frame our responses and behaviour to get results.
Key of course, to any relationship, is communication. Poor communication is so often the root cause of many relationship problems and communication is invariably better in some relationships than in others. Many teachers are adept at communicating very effectively with pupils and students, but might be less successful when talking with other adults.
Before you can start to work on your communication skills, you first need to think about what helps you and what prevents you from communicating as effectively as you would like. Think about the people that you enjoy communicating with: your friends, your family and colleagues. Identify the attitudes, values and skills that make this easy. Write these down under the heading “aids to communication”.
Next, think about the people you struggle to communicate with and go through the same process with the heading “barriers to communication”. Look at your answers to both and this should give you a clearer understanding of what you need to be able to communicate well.
Listening is a key part of the communication process. While poor listeners are likely to interrupt, argue, or jump to conclusions, good listeners in contrast will encourage, ask questions when they don’t understand something, and look at things from another person’s perspective.
None of us of course can ever be sure how another person will react and anxiety is a normal part of the process. If you fall victim to this you will be less effective than you might otherwise be. But there are times when, if effective, it could make such a difference to your working life. To read more, see our Life Guide: Relationships at work (on our website).
- Julian Stanley is the CEO of the Education Support Partnership. For help or advice on any issue facing those working in education, contact the free 24-hour helpline on 08000 562 561 or visit www.educationsupportpartnership.org.uk