The Power of Conversations

Last week leaders from across the trust looked at powerful coaching conversations with John Samuels. Whilst there was much to reflect on, the most powerful message that stood out for me was that all relationships are a result of a series of conversations. More than this, all conversations lead you either closer to your goals or further away.

This is something that has stayed with me over the weekend and I’ve thought about it in many different contexts: as a leader; as a classroom teacher; as a friend and as a mother. Newly framed, I realised that ‘every conversation counts’; every time I connect with someone I am making decisions about how that conversation plays out: from my tone of voice and choice of words, to my facial expression and subtle (or not so!) use of my body language. 

In the session John challenged us to redress poor relationships by re-engaging in conversations. Although I have considered a variety of contexts since, this instantly took me to pupils that I knew I struggled to connect with – those that hide away at the back of the class, head down; those who challenge my patience with silly comments or interruptions during lessons and even those pupils who work hard week in week out but get ignored amongst a generally diligent class.  How do I re-engage with these pupils? Moreover, will that conversation lead me closer to my classroom goals and align with my overall classroom culture, or will they push that goal further away? I’ve certainly had conversations with pupils before where I’ve felt unsatisfied by the outcome: a lame nod of the head or parrot fashioned ‘yes, miss’ in response to my spontaneous monologue about respect or expectations or rules or…

What if I could create more strategy around this? What if I could become more deliberate in my choice of words and body language to send the relationship in the direction I want? What if I talked less and let the pupil speak more? (I’m not sure Aaron Burr was referring to this in his campaign to Alexander Hamilton but “Talk less; smile more”seems to be buzzing around in my head, Hamilton fans.)

Thinking about it now, that could be much more powerful and beneficial to the relationship. The quiet pupil who feels they are never heard, the disruptive pupil who wants to be seen, the diligent pupil who gets lost amongst the crowd. Opportunity to speak, to share and to be heard; an opportunity to build a stronger relationship and demonstrate that having authority doesn’t mean only hearing one voice.

It’s not just about what we say, or how much we allow others to speak though. Our body language plays a huge part in how we communicate and connect. With regret I now recall a moment where I set a detention at the start of the year; I was busily tidying the desk area ready for the next teacher, all the while explaining why it was important that pupils were respectful in class (the reason for the detention being lack of respect for his peers during performance). Not once did I look up, make eye contact or in truth, share that same respect I spoke of with that pupil. He was in trouble, yes, but my off hand approach demonstrated a lack of connection, and I missed an opportunity to understand why he had acted that way, and to strengthen the relationship with this pupil. No doubt he’ll forgot what I said, but perhaps he won’t forget how that made he feel. I’m sure though that in that moment we moved farther away from where I would have wanted our working relationship to be.

This isn’t just about pupils though, it’s about all relationships. In a work based context this means your team and the staff you work with every day. How do we communicate with them? Do we take the time for important conversations? Do we demonstrate respect and professionalism even in the moments where we are frustrated or disappointed? As a leader perhaps it is short-sighted of me to say that every conversation is going to remain positive, but if it’s not how do I maintain that relationship during a challenging discussion?

Lastly, some summarising reflections around how we can support our relationships through conversation:

  1. Having a conversation is better than not having a conversation.
    This is especially true is something is wrong or irritating you. No one benefits when important things are left unsaid.

  2. Make time for conversation.
    A rushed chat can leave all parties feeling underwhelmed. Consider what needs to be addressed by you, but also factor in time for the other person to talk too – it shouldn’t be one sided.

  3. Body language is hugely important.
    We communicate more through non-verbal indicators than we do through words. How you position yourself, your facial expression and use of eye contact all contribute to the experience around the conversation.

Some additional reading around conversations and leadership:

Goleman, Leadership that Gets Results

Scott, Fierce Leadership

Last week leaders from across the trust looked at powerful coaching conversations with John Samuels. Whilst there was much to reflect on, the most powerful message that stood out for me was that all relationships are a result of a series of conversations. More than this, all conversations lead you either closer to your goals or further away.

This is something that has stayed with me over the weekend and I’ve thought about it in many different contexts: as a leader; as a classroom teacher; as a friend and as a mother. Newly framed, I realised that ‘every conversation counts’; every time I connect with someone I am making decisions about how that conversation plays out: from my tone of voice and choice of words, to my facial expression and subtle (or not so!) use of my body language. 

In the session John challenged us to redress poor relationships by re-engaging in conversations. Although I have considered a variety of contexts since, this instantly took me to pupils that I knew I struggled to connect with – those that hide away at the back of the class, head down; those who challenge my patience with silly comments or interruptions during lessons and even those pupils who work hard week in week out but get ignored amongst a generally diligent class.  How do I re-engage with these pupils? Moreover, will that conversation lead me closer to my classroom goals and align with my overall classroom culture, or will they push that goal further away? I’ve certainly had conversations with pupils before where I’ve felt unsatisfied by the outcome: a lame nod of the head or parrot fashioned ‘yes, miss’ in response to my spontaneous monologue about respect or expectations or rules or…

What if I could create more strategy around this? What if I could become more deliberate in my choice of words and body language to send the relationship in the direction I want? What if I talked less and let the pupil speak more?
(I’m not sure Aaron Burr was referring to this in his campaign to Alexander Hamilton but “Talk less; smile more”seems to be buzzing around in my head, Hamilton fans.)

Thinking about it now, that could be much more powerful and beneficial to the relationship. The quiet pupil who feels they are never heard, the disruptive pupil who wants to be seen, the diligent pupil who gets lost amongst the crowd. Opportunity to speak, to share and to be heard; an opportunity to build a stronger relationship and demonstrate that having authority doesn’t mean only hearing one voice.

It’s not just about what we say, or how much we allow others to speak though. Our body language plays a huge part in how we communicate and connect. With regret I now recall a moment where I set a detention at the start of the year; I was busily tidying the desk area ready for the next teacher, all the while explaining why it was important that pupils were respectful in class (the reason for the detention being lack of respect for his peers during performance). Not once did I look up, make eye contact or in truth, share that same respect I spoke of with that pupil. He was in trouble, yes, but my off hand approach demonstrated a lack of connection, and I missed an opportunity to understand why he had acted that way, and to strengthen the relationship with this pupil. No doubt he’ll forgot what I said, but perhaps he won’t forget how that made he feel. I’m sure though that in that moment we moved farther away from where I would have wanted our working relationship to be.

This isn’t just about pupils though, it’s about all relationships. In a work based context this means your team and the staff you work with every day. How do we communicate with them? Do we take the time for important conversations? Do we demonstrate respect and professionalism even in the moments where we are frustrated or disappointed? As a leader perhaps it is short-sighted of me to say that every conversation is going to remain positive, but if it’s not how do I maintain that relationship during a challenging discussion?

Lastly, some summarising reflections around how we can support our relationships through conversation:

  1. Having a conversation is better than not having a conversation.
    This is especially true is something is wrong or irritating you. No one benefits when important things are left unsaid.

  2. Make time for conversation.
    A rushed chat can leave all parties feeling underwhelmed. Consider what needs to be addressed by you, but also factor in time for the other person to talk too – it shouldn’t be one sided.

  3. Body language is hugely important.
    We communicate more through non-verbal indicators than we do through words. How you position yourself, your facial expression and use of eye contact all contribute to the experience around the conversation.

Some additional reading around conversations and leadership:

Daniel Goleman, Leadership that Gets Results

Susan Scott, Fierce Leadership

David Marquetm Turn the Ship Around

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