Last week I made a promise to come back to what is consistently named to me as the biggest challenge in RP, i.e. having to go to a colleague with an issue. It's the "I'm great with the kids but not with the staff" syndrome. I've had a week to prepare for this and given it quite a bit of thought (not that I don't give all my other blogs a lot of thought, but this is just too big to be done in any half-measure). I said last week that nearly every single centre I go to names this as an issue so, safe to say this isn't directed at anyone in particular, but rather everyone in particular. And what's more, I'm as bad as anyone in all this. My voice used to shake if I had to say something to someone before. It doesn't come easy and it takes effort, but it is definitely worth the effort.
As I said, nearly every centre and staff team finds this difficult. And I'd be willing to bet that, even when they don't name it as an issue, secretly it probably is. Furthermore, I'd be pretty certain that many, if not most, families around the country would also say this is something they struggle with. It's everywhere. We are genetically built to get along with people, ever since the days of hunting and gattering and living in caves. Our survival as a species has depended on it. But now, in a modern world, where there are a hundred competing demands and needs each day, it is a lot more difficult to do this. Unfortunately a grunt and a groan just won't get you very far these days. So what to do? In keeping with the list-nature of last week's blog I thought I'd do something similar again this week and give my top ten tips, which are given in no particular order of importance.
No 1. See it as an opportunity.
We tend to have a negative association of words like "challenge" and "conflict". If we see them this way, it will be reflected in our body language and demeanour, which other people will then read in us. See it as a negative and we'll probably have 50 excuses not to say anything ("ah sure, there's a week gone by, it's too late now"). If, however, we see challenge and conflict as a way to finding mutual understanding and solutions, it will also be reflected in our body language and demeanour (and other people will see that too). Change your way of looking at it and you open up new possibilitites.
No 2. Meet conflict BEFORE it happens.
How can deal with conflict when it hasn't happened? Simple. RP is about building relationships and acting preventatively. So, get to know your colleagues while things are good. Have a chat with them, even if you wouldn't normally. Make that proverbial cup of tea. This will build a better relationship, thereby reducing the prospect of conflict AND, most likely, minimising the escalation of conflict when it does arise (and there will always be some level of conflict).
No. 3 Balance conflict with care
Similar slightly to the previous point, but recognise that no-one ever likes hearing only the "negatives". Maureen Gaffney has done research that indicates that it takes 5 positive statements to undo the effects of one negative one. So you need to say five positive things to your colleague/partner/child for every one time you "challenge" them. Otherwise the balance sheet is going to be very one-sided.
No.4 Strike when the Iron is Cold
We can only feel one emotion at a time and, if we go with that "constructive feedback" when we have a cocktail of shame and anger in us, you can guess the outcome. I've been there toe to toe with people when all reason has been lost and, guess what? It didn't help. Whatever the issue to be resolved, you will have a much better chance if you are some way relaxed and calm. You never know, when you are relaxed and clam, you might realise it's not half as big as you thought previously. It may not even be an issue at all!
No. 5 Fail to Prepare, Prepare to Fail
Fairly straight forward but this is what happens. We see the signs of conflict along the road and ignore them because we hope "it won't happen to me". Then, before we know it, we're in the middle of something we can't control and it's just a matter of chance if we make it out without too much damage. When we see signs of strife ahead, develop a plan of action. It might be to confront someone, or it might be to wait until we are confronted by that someone. Either way, if it's planned and played out in our head in advance, we have a much better chance of managing it when it happens.
No. 6 Standard Rules of Engagement
There are time-honoured rules in how to have that difficult conversation and it pays to stick to them. So, don't do it in public (it happens all the time though), don't do over e-mail/whatsapp (it happens as well), ask the other person when/where they'd like to discuss the matter, don't drag up a back catalogue of issues to bolster your argument ("and last year you never included me in the Christmas raffle"), just stick to the issue at hand, don't bring other people's testamonies into it ("Johnny in HR thinks I'm right too"), and finally, give the other person a chance to respond. What we are talking about here is a basic sense of fairness. If you have been wronged, you don't want to become the "wronger" at this point.
No. 7 Use RP language
And by this I mean the use of "I" statements rather than "you" statements, e.g. "I felt hurt/annoyed/sad", rather that "you made me feel hurt/annoyed/sad". Again there's no way to get into this now but Non-Violent Communication does this better than any way I know now. Make it the next book you buy and you won't regret it?
No. 8 Use RP questions
"What happened, what were you thinking, who's been affected and how, what needs to happen next?" These can be used in three ways. Firstly, as a self-awareness tool, you can ask them to yourself and thereby figure out how you feel and what you need to do. Having done this you can use them as a guide in talking to the other person, i.e. answer the questions, AS IF you had been asked by the other person, as you tell them your story. Finally then ask the questions TO the other person. Again this promotes fairness and gives them a chance to explain and make amends.
No. 9 Start small
No matter how much relationship building and preparation and planning for conversations you do, it'll still be a difficult conversation. You will still be nervous and you will forget half of what you've rehearsed (mind you 50% of a good plan is a lot better than 100% of a bad or non-existant plan). So, start with an "easy" conversation. "I've asked three times for that e-mail/report you promised. I'm getting a little frustrated in asking at this stage. I need that today. Can you send it on before lunch-time?" Or whatever you think you can handle without running into difficulty? Practice small, over time, and hone that skill.
No. 10 Why bother?
If you are still struggling after going through all of the above, ask yourself "why?". Why do it at all? Well, how about this? It's most likely part of your job and professional (and moral) responsibility. An unresolved issue or poor practice is going to affect the care/education/service of the young people we work with. We have an obligation to provide the best care/education/service that we can to our young people. And, having that conversation can do that, AND can actually support our colleagues along the way. The alternative is complaining to other colleagues in the canteen and staff room, which does no one any good. So take a chance, take one or two tips, learn the skills needed and have that conversation today.
That's Restorative Practice
My name is Joe Power and I am the RP development officer for Limerick. I thought I would write about my experiences in developing my own understanding of RP, as well as in trying to spread it across Limerick. The reason for this is that I find that both my own and other people's experiences are remarkably similar and there could well be some opportunity for other's to benefit from these thoughts (or ramblings!!). Anyway I hope you gain something from it.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.