Listen up to resolve a difficult situation

21st March 2008 at 00:00
More than 20 courses and workshops, aimed at supporting teachers and lecturers across Wales have been launched as part of a joint initiative between AMCAN Consultancy Training and Teacher Support Cymru. Nevertheless the press - including nationals - have been interested in just one of them - conflict management and dealing with difficult people.

Within schools, colleagues, line managers, student teachers and governors can all be bound by that one tag: the "difficult" person. Surveys and research continually show that as far as the working world is concerned, the number one reason for people changing their job - after higher pay and promotion - is to escape from difficult people and, all too often, a difficult boss.

Typically, they'll go to another organisation and find more difficult people, and work under another difficult boss.

Based on the findings of workplace surveys, it appears common to have to face conflict and deal with difficult people. Surely, then, many of them, or dare I say "us", are oblivious to this status or tag?

However, there are two areas that frequently lead to friction and so contribute to altercations with "difficult" people. The first is with regard to expectations, and the second is boundaries.

Very briefly, whenever we have an expectation of someone or something, then there is the potential for disappointment. This can result in people (them and us) becoming difficult. Similarly, when the boundaries implicit within a role are not observed by others, whatever their relationship to us, then the relationship can become strained, and interpersonal interactions become destabilised.

Once again, this can result in people (them and us) becoming difficult. In addition, due to new initiatives and the hectic pace with which teachers have to work in today's society, a pace which is often maintained in their personal time as they feel obliged to provide many and varied experiences for their own children, it is clear to see that the physiology of the stress response (them and us) is frequently the common denominator in difficult situations with colleagues.

Training in this area often explores the causes of why individuals may become difficult, identifies the various types that might be encountered on the "personality spectrum", leads to rationalising organisational goals and values when dealing with difficult people, and reinforces the value of group cohesion when dealing with conflict in the workplace.

While such discussions lead nicely into the development of a myriad of techniques to manage difficult people, there is something that stands out as needing "work". The key word is communication. Time should not be spent simply learning about verbal and non-verbal communication skills, but in actually applying them.

Perhaps it will help to remember that listening is not waiting to talk next.

Andy McCann is a former teacher and director of AMCAN consultancy and training.

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