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Difficult conversations at work – How to get your voice heard

By going into difficult conversations with a solutions-focused attitude, you can make your professional voice heard…

Toria Bono
by Toria Bono
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Finding your voice in education can be challenging, especially when you’re potentially surrounded by people with more experience, more confidence and a louder presence. Difficult conversations, in particular, may be entirely outside your comfort zone.

Have you ever had a great thought but been unable to express it?

Or if you have said something, have you have found that it’s fallen on deaf ears or didn’t come out the way you wanted it to?

I hope I can help you to not only identify what you want to do and what your great ideas are, but also how to express them and get the outcomes that you want. 

Managing difficult conversations

First things first – grab some paper and a pen or your phone so you can write some notes. I want you to write down the things you’d like to say at school but haven’t had the courage to do so.

These might be ideas you’ve had, changes you’d like to make, or difficulties you’re encountering. It could be about your teaching, a subject you lead, or another staff member. 

The next thing I want you to do is go through each item and identify how important it is to you. Use the following key:   

  • Double underlined or bold – this is important to me and really needs to be heard now. 
  • Single underlined – this is important to me and I would like someone to know about it. 
  • Do nothing – it’s there but it’s not very important and I don’t need to do anything about it yet. 
  • Cross it out – writing it down was enough and I can let go of it now.  

Look at your sheet and write down anything you’ve double underlined on a separate page. These are the thoughts that your inner voice is screaming at you to hear.

Think about why they are so important to you – what is it about them that means that you double underlined them?

Identifying why things are important to us helps us to better communicate this to others.

Beside each item, write down why this is important to you so that you can refer back to it later.  

Share with someone

You should now have what you want to say and why you want to say it. The next thing to consider is who you could say it to. Who do you think would listen? Who would give you the response you need?

This is very important to consider. Some people instantly start giving advice, even when you haven’t asked for it.

Others will just sit there and nod, or will only be half-listening. What do you need? Can the person you are thinking of give you that? If not, who else could you go to? 

Considering what response we need is so important. As an example, if I ask you to get milk while you’re in your house, you will probably go to the fridge in the kitchen.

You wouldn’t head to the bathroom or the bedroom. Some people are just like bathrooms and bedrooms – they don’t have the capacity to hear us and give us the space we need. So find your kitchens!  

Consider your desired outcome

Thinking about what you want the outcome to be is equally important. If you just want to be heard and for nothing to come of it, make that clear at the beginning of the conversation.

But, if you’re saying something because you need a change to happen, know what it is you want to change.

If we don’t frame our thoughts well when we’re talking to someone else it can appear like a moan. Instead, try and be solution focused. What solution do you want?  

My final tip is this – ensure that you create the space you need to be heard. If you think that you need to be listened to by a busy member of staff, book an appointment.

This tells them that what you have to say matters and that you require a dedicated time to share your thoughts. What’s stopping you?

You know what you want to say, why you want to say it and who you want to express it to. So go and book that appointment and find your voice.  

Toria Bono is a primary teacher and coaching lead in her school. She’s the host of the Tiny Voice Talks podcast and the author of the educational book Tiny Voices Talk.  

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