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October 2010 | Vol. 31 No. 5 www.learningforward.org | JSD 63

By Jamie sussel Turner

Nearly every school I’ve worked inhas an “Anne” on its staff.Teachers talk about how Anne

isn’t the teacher she used to be. Parentsdon’t want their children in Anne’s

class. Students walk on eggshells,careful not to upset her. Someprincipals talk with Anne about theproblems they see, while otherscomplain about Anne to theiradministrative colleagues and stick theirheads in the sand, counting the yearsuntil she finally retires.

I know about the “Annes” inschools because I saw this scenariomany times as a teacher and as aprincipal. This is one aspect of myleadership where I wish I had a do-over.Many times, I felt flustered withfinding the right words to help this typeof teacher. I once told a teacher sheshould consider retiring, and you canimagine how that went over!

The confrontation model outlinedin Fierce Conversations became the keythat opened the door to help meconsider talking with Anne in a differentway — a way that could enlist Anne inlooking at the situation with me.

Here are the steps in the con-frontation model:• Name the issue.• Select a specific example that

illustrates the behavior or situation

you want to change.• Describe your emotions around the

issue.• Clarify why this is important —

what is at stake to gain or lose.• Identify your contribution to this

problem.• Indicate your wish to resolve the

issue.• Invite your partner

to respond.The confrontation

model incorporates theseseven steps into a 60-second openingstatement. Susan Scottrecommends that afterexpressing these words,you invite the otherperson to talk. You sitback and listen, digging for fullunderstanding when you need to. Ifound it helpful to plan the statement inadvance, focusing on getting clear aboutthe issue I really needed to address. Ieven practice my 60-second openingstatement aloud several times so that Iown the words and can deliver themwith grace and skill.

Here’s something similar to what Isaid to Anne:

Anne, I want to talk about the effectyour use of sarcasm is having on theemotional state of your students and alsothe effect your decision not to incorporatenew strategies is having on your students’engagement and learning. Last weekwhen I was in your classroom, you

confrontation model of conversation providestools to discuss and resolve tough issues

•In each issue of JSD, Susan Scott([email protected]) exploresaspects of communication thatencourage meaningful collaboration.Scott, author of Fierce Conversations:Achieving Success At Work & In Life,One Conversation at a Time(Penguin, 2002) and FierceLeadership: A Bold Alternative to theWorst “Best” Practices of BusinessToday (Broadway Business, 2009),leads Fierce Inc. (www.fierceinc.com),which helps companies around theworld transform the conversationsthat are central to their success. Fiercein the Schools carries this work intoschools and higher education.Columns are available atwww.learningforward.org.© Copyright, fierce inc., 2010.

collaborative culture sUsaN sCOT T

I applaud Jamie Sussel Turner’s use of the confrontation model with her staffmembers. In our schools, in our lives, not speaking to the heart of the issue with graceand skill costs us dearly. Speaking to the heart of the issue, addressing attitudinal andbehavioral issues with grace and skill, and gaining clarity about where we need to gowith our colleagues is essential and allows us to tackle and resolve our toughest challengeswhile enriching the relationship.

— Susan Scott

Jamie Sussel Turner

JSD | www.learningforward.org October 2010 | Vol. 31 No. 564

collaborative culture sUsaN sCOT T

snapped at John for not doing hishomework. He lowered his head in hishands to hide his tears. Also, last week Iwas in the hallway and heard you sigh asyou used a sarcastic tone to tell the class,“I wish every class was as smart as youare.” Also, I wanted to note that duringmy last observation, you lectured the classfor the entire period without engagingyour students in any discussion oractivities as our staff has been learning todo. I am concerned about the emotionalstate of your students and for theirlearning. I want you to know I also feelconcern for you. I feel sad to see thesechanges in your teaching since I havealways known you to be a kind teacherwho is positive with students, is willing totry new strategies, and holds studentlearning as a priority. There is a great dealat stake for your students, for you, and forme. The daily emotional well-being andachievement of your students is at stake.Your students deserve to have a teacherwho will speak to them with respect andgenuine affection and teach them in away that truly engages them in thelearning process. My effectiveness as aprincipal is at stake because the success ofour students lies squarely on my doorstep.I recognize that I have contributed to thissituation by not speaking with you aboutthis sooner in a way that clarified mygrowing concerns. I apologize. You

deserved better. I hope to see you continueand eventually wrap up your career as thewell-respected and beloved teacher whobegan this career years ago.

I want to listen now. Please tell mewhat’s going on from where you sit.

“Are you trying to get rid of me?”Anne angrily responded.

I calmly repeated that I wanted tounderstand her point of view.

Anne took a deep breath beforelaunching into an explanation of herneed to continue teaching for two moreyears “for the benefits.” “You have noidea how hard it is to just make it toschool each day,” she sighed, “Theconstant curriculum changes are stressingme out, the kids can’t pay attention likethey used to, and the parents try to solveall of their problems.”

I didn’t disagree with Anne or try todissuade her. I continued to listen,paraphrasing her comments from timeto time.

After several minutes, she said sheneeded time to mull over ourconversation and asked if we couldmeet again in a few days.

I thanked her for joining me in thisconversation and we agreed on a timeto talk again.

About a week later, Anne and Italked again. She spoke about how she’sstruggled since the death of her mother,admitting that she may be sufferingfrom mild depression. She recommittedto improving how she interacted withher students and to planning moreengaging lessons. We both agreed tocheck in from time to time to keepAnne’s new goals in sight.

I used the confrontation modelmany more times over the years andfound that it brings me clarity eachtime. For the last several years of myprincipalship, I was on a mission tocreate a school culture that valuedrelationships and honest conversation. Istarted with myself, changing how Iengaged with others. This doesn’t meanthat I talked with every single personabout every single issue. Instead, I gave

time and space to situations and waitedto see which ones seized hold of myattention and didn’t let go. I learned tosoften my tone and invite other peopleto share their perspectives, so thatconfrontation was about our combinedsearch for the truth.

I became calmer in confrontationconversations because I had greaterclarity. I no longer shoved aside issuesthat I had avoided talking about in thepast. This conversational model gaveme the tools I needed to tackle andresolve tough issues. And as a surprisingbyproduct of my growth, several staffmembers began having successfulconfrontation conversations, too.

I can’t say that by talking with AnneI eliminated all problems with her orbetween her and other staff members.What I can say is that I felt less stress asI now had the conversations thatpreviously weighed me down and moreself-confidence in my growing ability tocommunicate with others in anauthentic way.

I learned that each conversation wehave builds trust in each of ourrelationships. Over the years, I hadmany other confrontation conversationsabout conflicts over curriculumapproaches, scheduling issues,instructional practices, absenteeism,and more. By changing how I discusseddifficult issues, I invited others to dothe same. I like to think that myleadership helped our schoolcommunity to talk about our conflictsin a direct and trusting way. I sawevidence of this in the years thatfollowed when many more successfulconfrontation conversations led manymembers of our staff to listen to oneanother with greater respect andunderstanding, benefitting our studentsand enhancing the learningenvironment.

•Jamie Sussel Turner, an

elementary principal for 12 years,mentors principals and leads FierceConversations workshops. �

Work toward full understanding

how we use this model for confrontationis also important — i have a couple moresteps to the model that follow up on that keyopening statement. first, when you invite theother person to give his or her perspective, besure to dig for full understanding, as Jamiesussel Turner suggests. as you work towardsresolution, think about what you and yourpartner have learned. where are you now?what is your next step forward? and finally,how will you follow up in the future with oneanother? it helps to think ahead to your nextconversation as you build your ongoingunderstanding and relationships.

— Susan Scott

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