Posted by: darcymullin | April 12, 2015

Difficult Conversations – the key to growth?

On Friday I was lucky enough to attend a Pro D session run by Woody Bradford (@ebradford14).  The focus of the day was difficult conversations – specifically conversations that will push the learning in our schools.  It was a great day, with lots of conversations and time to reflect and apply our learning to our own context. Here are some of my take aways:heart mind

  1. Difficult conversations require safety.  Safety comes from trusting relationships. Both parties must feel comfortable with each other and feel that there is no judgement being rendered.  When we are judgemental open and honest sharing stops.
  2. Be prepared.  Don’t have a conversation that will push somebody’s thinking and potentially make them uncomfortable without putting a lot of thought into it. Difficult conversations require preparation so we don’t send the wrong message.  It is wise to think about potential questions and be ready with responses.
  3. Value strengths.  When having conversations that will push people’s thinking it is important to let them know that their opinions matter.  They have to know you recognize their strengths as an educator and a person.
  4. Acknowledge the elephant in the room.  If we are going to have a difficult conversation, don’t beat around the bush.  Have the integrity to acknowledge the conversation is going to be hard, but it is not personal.  Keep learning and growth at its heart.
  5. Read the situation.  Sometimes in spite of the best intentions and preparation, difficult conversations go awry.  Be mindful of the other person.  Read body language, listen with your eyes and be prepared if the person becomes defensive.  Don’t take it personally and try a new approach.

which way to goOne of my biggest takewaways was conflict is a good thing and not something to be avoided.  Conflict that follows the parameters set out above is productive and conducive to learning.  It is conflict that offers different perspectives, pushes our thinking and challenges our assumptions.  When our thinking changes we learn and grow. We should push ourselves to be a learning community has a mindset focused on growth.  We need to seek conversations that take us to the core of our work – student learning.  Open dissucsions where we talk about our biggest struggles and push us to utilize our resources in the most effective way possible should be the norm. It was great to have my thinking pushed.


  1. Thanks Darcy. Great insights. Conflict should be embraced as a growth opportunity especially when it connects back to the collective commitments adults have made. While it is often tempting to surround ourselves with “compliant agree-ers”, that rarely achieves the deeper end result. If the four people in the room always agree on everything, three of them aren’t needed.

    • Agree Tom. I like what you say about the collective agreements among the staff. When the difficult conversations occur it’s important to keep core values in mind.

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