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Finding Peace in the Principal's Office

Posted by Grace Lee on Mar 22, 2013 8:20:00 AM

Conflict resolution is one of the most stressful parts of the school administrator's job. It may be a teacher who is resistant to feedback, a student who has to be suspended or expelled, or perhaps a parent who is upset about a coach or thinks their student is perpetually being bullied. This is only a small sample of the daily conflicts that an administrator has to effectively navigate, and the emotional gravity of these decisions has a direct impact on the school culture and the personal health of the leader.

Getting to Yes (Fisher, Ury, and Patton) is a book that I highly recommend for finding peace in the principal's office. The method articulated stresses the importance of negotiating based on principles rather than position. 

As a chief administrator for seventeen years, I always had a round table in my office to meet with people, which is important for a dialogue that involves disagreement. My goal was to try to empathetically sit beside my concerned guests rather than being on opposite sides of the table. One technique that a friend taught me to practice empathy is called, "Feel, Felt, Found." It goes something like this:

"I understand how you Feel."

"I might have Felt the same way."

"I have Found that in such a situation it's usually wise to ..."

At the start of a meeting, especially where conflict is involved, I begin with an important question:

"What is the ideal result that could be accomplished from this conversation?"

Many times the person hasn't considered what he or she really wants. Even if it takes a few minutes, allow some time for reflection and to express the ideal outcome--uninterrupted. You may be surprised how often the desired result is actually quite reasonable and doable. In my experience people seldom express an outlandish result that they know isn't going to happen.

The administrator also wants to employ active listening techniques that communicate genuine respect and interest. Body language is very important as is resisting the temptation to interrupt. It is acceptable to limit the conversation to the facts rather than interpretations or opinions. 

If a parent or faculty member shows up with an uninvited attorney in tow, simply ask the legal expert to wait in the outer office until you have finished the conversation. If something arises that requires advice regarding the law, you can step out to ask the lawyers advice. Just because they brought along a guest, doesn't mean you are obligated to involve them in the meeting. The same goes when a parent brings other parents with them thinking that there is power in numbers. The uninvited can wait in the outer office until you have completed the scheduled conversation for which you prepared.

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