Not getting along? 5 ways to avoid a staffroom scene

If you’re not getting along with a colleague, it can be tempting to air your grievances. Gemma Corby urges caution…

Gemma Corby

staffroom arguments

We’ve heard it countless times: “You should’ve just told me to my face!”

Usually it’s on screen, either in Albert Square or one of those reality TV shows that I never watch because I am too grown up and sophisticated (*cough, cough*).

But how many of us really want the truth told to our faces?

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I remember a sage piece of advice given to me by a well-respected senior colleague early on in my teaching career. He said there were members of the school staff he did not particularly like, but no one would ever know that to be the case. 

He continued by saying that he wasn’t two-faced – he was being professional.

This was a light-bulb moment for me. I don’t like feeling disingenuous, but quite rightly, there is an expectation that school staff will treat each other in a courteous and respectful way. 

His words reassured me: it’s OK not to see eye to eye with everyone. In fact, it’s quite normal.

When to speak up

There are times, however, when it is important to say something. This can be tricky if you are new to a school, or early on in your teaching career, particularly if your complaint is with a more senior member of staff.

Equally, if you have additional responsibilities as part of your role, you may find yourself having to have difficult conversations with colleagues, parents/carers or other professionals. Neither task is easy, but here are some basic pointers:

1. Be clear about what you want to say – and have evidence to support what you are saying, if appropriate.

2. Schedule a time to have the conversation and secure a room where you know you will not be interrupted or overheard.

3. Be ready to listen to the other person with an open mind.

4. If you are a new member of staff, you may be wise to seek advice from a mentor (whether from within your school or from outside).

5. Pick your battles. Sometimes it is obvious when you need to speak to a colleague about their conduct or quality of their work, but there can be grey areas – some things come down to personal preference.

It is neither kind nor professional to gossip, but letting off a bit of steam privately to someone trusted or removed from the situation can be really helpful.

The magic of a moan

We have to learn to accept that not every bad situation can be resolved, but this doesn’t mean you can’t have a good moan over a cup of tea (or something stronger). 

You’re not a bad person or two-faced – it’s quite human. In this age of no-holds-barred comments on social media, it can feel like there is a pressure to always have your say, but actually, silence is often more powerful.

Bear in mind that we all have an ego, and we are all fragile, even those who put on a brave front (in fact, particularly those who put on a brave front, in my experience). 

Do you really want to know what others think of you? Personally, I would rather live in blissful ignorance.

Gemma Corby is a freelance writer and former special educational needs and disability coordinator

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