Dealing with situations that include tension or conflict is certainly not unusual for educators, administrators or coaches, and the ability to communicate effectively in such circumstances is an extremely important skill for the professionals involved.
Often, simply taking time to think before speaking or writing – whether for half a minute, half an hour, or even 24 hours – can greatly improve the chances of successful communication.
Take 24 Seconds
Some situations, such as an out-of-control fan at a sporting event, require a prompt response, but concentrating in the brief time it takes to approach that individual can be constructive. Focus on being in control of your posture, expression and voice. As the professional in charge, you want to set the tone of the exchange, and to serve as a positive example not only to the subject of your message, but also to others who might be observing.
Ideally, your department has developed guidelines for handling such situations and the actual content of your message is clear in your mind. Taking half a minute to concentrate on how you deliver that message can help you achieve your purpose without escalating the conflict.
Take 24 Minutes
Other communication scenarios contain an element of tension due simply to the importance of the outcome. Examples might include problematic personnel evaluations or requests to supervisors or board members for additional resources or programs. Using half an hour or several minutes immediately prior to such scheduled dialogues, even with an already full schedule, will serve to your advantage.
Can you clearly articulate the specific outcome you desire? Have you organized your data and important concepts so they can be easily understood? If time will be limited, have you prioritized issues and points most important to address?
If taking a problem to a supervisor, do you have potential approaches or solutions to suggest? Are you honest in accepting any personal responsibility involved? If you are unable to achieve your entire objective, have you considered possible compromises that could be accepted as sufficient progress at that point?
Remember that your nonverbal communication in face-to-face meetings is extremely important, too. Poise and confidence, without arrogance or defensiveness, lend credibility to your message and increase chances of success.
And remember to listen. Effective communication is an ongoing, two-way process. Listening actively, not just hearing, can help you adapt your message as the situation evolves, and includes others in the process as legitimate stakeholders.
Take 24 Hours
In this age of technology, more and more communication occurs electronically. This has positive effects in that information can be shared quickly and efficiently with both large and small groups. Websites can enable schools to share important information with a much larger segment of the community, increase opportunities to share students’ success, and strengthen the connections between schools and communities. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, email and other forms of electronic messaging can also be used in a positive manner.
But such forms of communication come with potential hazards, and using them increases the need to be constantly aware of potential negative results. Texts and emails are essential tools for busy administrators and coaches, but should be used judiciously to avoid problems.
Dealing with emails from disappointed, angry or frustrated parents, community members or others can be especially problematic. People often include in emails language they would never dream of using in a face-to-face conversation, venting emotions from a perceived distance.
But that distance vanishes when ‘send’ or ‘submit’ is activated and the message delivered. Take sufficient time, always within any guidelines the school system provides for responding to constituents, to reflect before responding to any such message. If possible, wait until the following day to compile an appropriate reply.
Written electronic communication does not have the context of any smile, direct eye contact or nonverbal expression of interest, understanding, confusion or empathy. Emails can be cold words on a page that come without any handshake to provide the recipient the feeling he or she has at least been heard with professional respect.
Emails can be excerpted, forwarded and/or posted so that countless people may read a message intended for a specific individual, without any context whatsoever. When feasible, send a brief response to set up a time for a face-to-face meeting to address the issues involved.
When a meeting is not possible or appropriate, craft your reply thoughtfully. Is your response professional? Is it based on established rules, guidelines and procedures established by your state association and school district? Does it reflect the values and mission of your school and department? Would you want your supervisor to read it? Would you want your spouse or children to read it? Would you want to receive it yourself?
Edit carefully to eliminate any “loaded” language. Avoid using stereotypes or “labels,” and delete any words or phrases that might carry a negative connotation. Strive to create a rational rather than emotional response. Be as brief and concise as possible, except when citing rules or guidelines appropriate to the situation.
Difficult or challenging communication situations will always be a part of day-to-day business for those who work with high school activities. Using whatever time you have available to mentally prepare for them will significantly increase your chances of success.
Treva Dayton is a former classroom teacher, forensic coach and theatre director. She has served as state director of speech and debate for the Texas University Interscholastic League (UIL) and as an assistant director for the NFHS. She recently retired as director of academics for UIL. Dayton is a member of the High School Today Publications Committee.