In partnership with Fierce in the Schools, the Learning Forward Blog publishes an exclusive article for our Fierce blog. Our guest writer is Stephanie Hirsh, the Executive Director of Learning Forward, Please visit the Learning Forward Blog, hosted by Education Week, to read more of their blog posts.
Lately, I have experienced several challenges that have made me reflect on one of the staff agreements we list at Learning Forward: Speak to people rather than about them. Do not say something about someone who is not present unless you intend to share it with them and are seeking help in clarifying your request.
Given my recent challenges, I asked myself - what can I do, as a leader, to build a climate where all people feel comfortable in sharing their point of view, and would not consider it necessary to represent the views of others?
I read several articles on the subject and did some soul searching. I was reminded that I can only control my own actions. So I am committing myself to the following three actions:
1) Walk the talk.
I will limit my conversations with others, about colleagues who aren’t present, unless I am committed to speaking only for the purpose of gaining clarity and assistance. When I turn to a colleague for such help, I will report back on the fulfillment of that commitment and express appreciation for the coaching. Circling back demonstrates that the purpose of our conversation was to solve a problem rather than to vent or gossip.
2) Be visibly open to new ideas and different points of view.
How I handle new ideas and different points of view, as a leader, helps to create an environment where people will feel comfortable initiating conversations about topics they perceive as difficult. While I try to be open to new ideas, I must admit I don’t always get it right.
When I recognize that my initial reaction is not the one I wanted to portray publicly, I will call attention to my mistake and be clear that I am holding myself and others to an expectation of openness. I will work hard to respond like a colleague of mine, who recognizes her own struggles to be open-minded and sometimes begins her responses by saying, “I am trying to love this idea…give me time."
3) Ask others to honor the agreement.
Recently, I’ve had more than one trusted colleague convey to me what others in the organization are saying. In some cases, these representations of others’ points of views seem harmless and perhaps even helpful. And when colleagues don’t feel they can come directly to the person with whom they have conflicts, there is no opportunity for both parties in a relationship to clarify misunderstandings or address real problems.
When someone attempts to represent another person’s point of view to me, I will remind him or her of the organization’s stance on this value. While it can be intimidating to go to a supervisor to express a concern, unhealthy work habits create long-term problems in relationships and results.
These are three steps I commit to take to reduce the strain I am experiencing, relating to our staff agreement: Speak to people rather than about them.
I am curious to hear – what actions would you recommend to decrease the need to represent others’ views and create a culture that supports, honors, and reacts positively to problems and concerns expressed from within?