Navigating difficult conversations with staff

When a problem arises in a school setting, it is important that school leaders have the skills to effectively and respectfully discuss the issue or concern with the teaching staff involved.

Following her keynote address at the ACER's Research Conference in Melbourne, Distinguished Professor Viviane Robinson sat down with Teacher editor Jo Earp to discuss ways in which educational leaders can go about discussing issues or problems that arise in the workplace.

Firstly, according to Robinson, it is important that the school leader is honest. ‘Our research shows that quite often leaders are quite indirect and they don't disclose their perceived problem honestly,' she says. ‘Second difficulty is, sometimes, if they do disclose it, they disclose it in a way that prejudges it – i.e. “I'm right, you're wrong, it is a problem” – instead of treating it as their point of view, and then inviting [the teacher's] point of view. So, that's the second concern.'

The third concern, Robinson says, is that once an agreement is reached about a problem, often the two parties don't fully discuss its potential or possible causes.

‘…They leave out the causes that are in the teacher's behaviour, or at least they leave out the discussion of that, because again they see that as risky and threatening for the relationship,' Robinson says.


As a school leader, what skills have you learned about having difficult conversations with your staff? What are your top three tips for navigating these conversations effectively and respectfully?

According to Distinguished Professor Viviane Robinson, it’s important that leaders speak honestly about the perceived problem or concern. How often are you having honest conversations with your staff? What challenges do you face in doing so?