Monday, December 12, 2016

Professional Learning Bleeds Into Personal Life

Adulting is hard.

Some parts of being a grown-up are great. For instance, I just came back from three days in Vancouver, British Columbia. My dear friend Denise Colby and I presented at the Learning Forward conference.

We're here!

Selfie outside the Vancouver Convention Centre

We were fortunate enough to get an "Extended Sharing" grant from the TLLP (Teaching Learning and Leadership Program) to lead a workshop on "Passion Led Communities"; otherwise, we would not have been able to afford to attend. As it was, Denise and I tried our best to be as frugal as possible. This meant we were only able to spend a single day at the conference. (The other two days were for travelling there and back.) In our schedules, we had room to sign up for just a single workshop to attend as a participant. The session I chose to attend was called "Handling Difficult Discussions With Ease". This was an excellent and timely workshop. You can tell by the tweets I posted.

I think I was meant to attend Kate and Michele's workshop.  You see, just before I went to Vancouver, I had a huge disagreement with people close to me.

In blogging etiquette, according to this site, we should
Think before you post any information that you do not want the world to see. The blogosphere is global and open to the public.
I won't go into details about the specifics of our falling-out. The usual pattern after a "fight" with these folks is to avoid talking about it and pretend like nothing happened. This strategy can become a problem, as Kate said in the workshop, because it's like piling dry timber up; it gets bigger and bigger and has the potential to burst into flames with any tiny spark. Kate and Michele explained that all the feelings and reactions that arise when faced with the possibility of a challenging conversation are natural - they had a very creative way of replicating this in their session with an "ice breaker" that had the audience fleeing for the hills! Kate and Michele also had several wonderful suggestions that made me decide to stop sweeping problems under the rug with these individuals and address the issues directly like a real adult. This is a lot harder than it sounds, because as the workshop leaders acknowledged, emotions can be even stronger between friends and family than between co-workers, and there are many factors at play that complicate things.

(I have to add that reading the book Lemons to Lemonade: Resolving Problems in Meetings, Workshops and PLCs by Robert J. Garmston and Diane P. Zimmerman, which I was given at my Presenter's Palette workshop and read on the plane to Vancouver, also helped with my resolve to take what I had learned on my trip to Vancouver and apply it.)

I took the initiative to start this conversation. Kate and Michele said that the person who begins the talk will often have more advantages, because they are mentally prepared for the discussion. This was true. I looked at the "Crucial Conversations Planner" (from VitalSmarts - I don't know if I have permission to share it online so I won't) and went over some of the questions. I practiced what I would say. I rehearsed it without letting my emotions get in the way or interfere with the message. I reviewed 1) the facts (e.g. everyone was upset about how a recent event went), 2) my story (e.g. I was upset and [not but - a key word choice] I didn't mean to upset both of you) and 3) the questions to ask (e.g. how can we communicate our needs and expectations better so we can avoid misunderstandings in the future?). I mentally prepared for the worst possible response. I wasn't sure how this would proceed. After all, leopards don't change their spots and I was uncertain what they would say. Despite this preparation, my stomach was still in knots.

I'm relieved to say that it wasn't a complete disaster. It was a frosty greeting but someone else whom I respect was there to help facilitate the discussion. We spent more time on a practical version of the third point in the path (e.g. "let's talk frankly and honestly about how we foresee this upcoming event running, so that we don't have an experience like we did with the last one"). My third party even took notes, so that we had our decisions recorded so there would be less likelihood of misunderstanding or poor recollection of the agreements. When exploring the others' opinions, I used only half of the AMPP strategies; I asked and mirrored, because they were not at the stage where they were ready or willing to paraphrase or prime. The upcoming celebration is now all ironed out, and people actually had the chance to express their feelings about certain past patterns, and we were able to address them calmly and with consensus.

Will things change now? I doubt it. Just as I was leaving their house after this fruitful conversation, someone brought up another unrelated issue and when I clarified my view, she quickly became agitated and defensive. Thankfully there were witnesses around so we could quickly reassure everyone that this was solvable without arguments, re-establish what steps needed to occur, and repeat what we agreed to do. I just have to remind myself this three word adage: assume positive intentions. These people don't mean to aggravate me. I may not be able to change people, but I can change how I react and respond.

Thank you so much to my (anonymous on here) third party member, Kate and Michele from the Connecticut Education Association, the Learning Forward organization, and everyone. It's great when you can apply what you learn from a workshop at your workplace; it's incredible when you can apply what you learn from a workshop to your life.

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